MEPS 343:239-249 (2007)  -  DOI:

Spatial dynamics of the Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus in a Caribbean atoll

Richard M. Starr1,*, Enric Sala2,3, Enric Ballesteros3, Mikel Zabala4

1University of California Sea Grant Extension Program, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, 8272 Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing, California 95039, USA
2Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, California 90293-0202, USA
3Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes (CSIC), 17300 Blanes, Spain
4Departament d’Ecologia, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, 08028 Barcelona, Spain

ABSTRACT: Worldwide, chronic overfishing has depleted populations of large predatory reef fishes and caused unexpected, top-down changes in coral reef ecosystems. Groupers are especially susceptible to overexploitation, because they aggregate to reproduce at specific locations and times. An understanding of the spatial dynamics of these fishes is critical for fisheries management and conservation. However, movements and migration dynamics of endangered reef fishes are poorly known. We show, using acoustic telemetry, that Nassau groupers Epinephelus striatus exhibit highly synchronised migration to spawning sites, despite their otherwise solitary habits. Reproductive adults leave their individual territories in shallow waters near the winter full moons, and migrate to the same spawning site up to 4 times yr–1. At the spawning site, a remarkable population-wide depth change occurs within an hour as individuals dive to a maximum depth of 255 m. Our results greatly expand the previously known migration frequency and depth range of this species, and reveal an unexpected yet predictable complexity of adult fish migration between habitats. Effective conservation of this threatened species requires that deeper reefs and the timing of migration events be incorporated into fisheries management plans.

KEY WORDS: Nassau grouper · Site fidelity · Swimming speed · Migration · Acoustic telemetry · Grouper conservation

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Cite this article as: Starr RM, Sala E, Ballesteros E, Zabala M (2007) Spatial dynamics of the Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus in a Caribbean atoll. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 343:239-249.

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