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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 634:127-146 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13181

Potential for grouper acoustic competition and partitioning at a multispecies spawning site off Little Cayman, Cayman Islands

Katherine C. Wilson1,*, Brice X. Semmens1, Christy V. Pattengill-Semmens2, Croy McCoy3,4, Ana Širović1,5

1Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 8622 Kennel Way, San Diego, California 92037, USA
2Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), PO Box 246, Key Largo, Florida 33037, USA
3Cayman Islands Department of Environment, Box 10202, Grand Cayman KY1-1002, Cayman Islands
4Bangor University, Bangor LL57 2DG, UK
5Texas A&M University Galveston, PO Box 1675, Galveston, Texas 77553, USA
6Present address: NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology, 1315 East West Highway, SIlver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Many fishes produce calls during spawning that aid in species and mate recognition. When multiple sound-producing species inhabit an area, the detection range may decrease and limit call function. Acoustic partitioning, the separation of calls in time, space, or spectral frequency, can minimize interference among species and provide information about fish behavior and ecology, including possible response to increasing anthropogenic noise. We investigated acoustic partitioning among 4 sound-producing epinephelids, Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus, red hind E. guttatus, black grouper Mycteroperca bonaci, and yellowfin grouper M. venenosa, using passive acoustic data collected at Little Cayman, Cayman Islands, during the spawning season of 2015 to 2017. We measured spectral and temporal features of 9 call types known or presumed to be produced by these fishes to assess frequency partitioning and call discrimination. We assessed call temporal and spatial partitioning using recordings from 2 locations. Differences among call features enabled good discrimination of Nassau grouper and red hind but not black and yellowfin grouper. The median peak frequencies of calls differed but bandwidths shared a common 13 Hz range, resulting in limited partitioning of spectral space. Red hind produced calls with higher frequencies than other species. Black grouper calling peaked before sunset whereas other species’ calling peaked after sunset. Yellowfin grouper calling was prevalent north of other species, suggesting spatial separation. These results indicated separation in space and time between species calls, which aids in acoustic partitioning. When this separation did not occur, unique call structures were present, which may aid in effective intraspecies communication.


KEY WORDS: Grouper · Spawning aggregation · Fish bioacoustics · Acoustic niche · Acoustic partitioning


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Cite this article as: Wilson KC, Semmens BX, Pattengill-Semmens CV, McCoy C, Širović A (2020) Potential for grouper acoustic competition and partitioning at a multispecies spawning site off Little Cayman, Cayman Islands. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 634:127-146. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13181

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