MEPS 311:145-156 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps311145

Determinism and plasticity of fish schooling behaviour as exemplified by the South Pacific jack mackerel Trachurus murphyi

Arnaud Bertrand1,*, Maria Angela Barbieri2,3, François Gerlotto1, Francisco Leiva3, José Córdova2

1Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Centre de Recherche Halieutique Méditerranéenne et Tropicale, Avenue Jean Monnet, BP 171, 34203 Sète Cedex, France
2Instituto de Fomento Pesquero, Blanco 839, Casilla 8-V, Valparaíso, Chile
3Escuela de Ciencias del Mar, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Av. Altamirano 1480, Casilla 1020, Valparaíso, Chile

ABSTRACT: Pelagic fish schools are thought to show a general pattern of dispersion at night and aggregation within schools during the day. This pattern is often accepted as the major rule driving most of the other physiological, biological and ecological processes. Foraging on mobile prey, for instance, is assumed to be enhanced by schooling behaviour. Current theory assumes then that foraging is only possible for obligatory gregarious predatory fish from dawn to dusk. However, offshore mesopelagic communities perform vertical migrations and are out of reach for most oceanic pelagic predators during the day (with the exception of some apex predators, e.g. swordfish or bigeye tuna). To investigate how fish may overcome this apparent contradiction, we studied the 3-dimensional spatial strategy of the South Pacific jack mackerel Trachurus murphyi according to the abiotic and biotic conditions of the habitat. Data came from acoustic surveys performed in central Chile in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Our results show that the jack mackerel distribution was driven by prey during the night when foraging, and related to the hydrology when resting during the day in the upper part of the oxycline. Fish were more aggregated at night than during the day, probably because jack mackerel cycles of schooling behaviour depend primarily on prey availability. This ‘atypical’ behaviour could be an adaptation of gregarious pelagic fish to an oceanic ecosystem. Fish schooling behaviour is not necessarily driven directly by the diel cycle; rather, it can be functional and depends on prey availability.

KEY WORDS: Fish schooling behaviour · Fish adaptive strategies · Diel migration · Predator–prey relationships · Pelagic ecosystem functioning · Dissolved oxygen · Jack mackerel

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