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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 639:199-214 (2020)  -  DOI:

Testing assumptions about sex change and spatial management in the protogynous gag grouper, Mycteroperca microlepis

Susan Lowerre-Barbieri1,2,*, Hayden Menendez2, Joel Bickford2, Theodore S. Switzer2, Luiz Barbieri2, Christopher Koenig3

1Fisheries and Aquatic Science Program, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida, 7922 NW 71st Street, Gainesville, FL 32653, USA
2Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
3Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory, 3618 Coastal Highway 98, St. Teresa, FL 32358, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Gag grouper Mycteroperca microlepis are protogynous hermaphrodites, for which the assumption of female-driven reproductive potential may be inaccurate. In protogynous species, male abundance, fertilization success, and stock productivity are affected by where and when sex change occurs and how fishing pressure affects male recruitment and survivorship. In this study, we integrated large spatial-scale data with high-resolution data from a 3 yr study sampling gag at deep-water sites with varying spatial management (a marine protected area [MPA], a seasonally closed area, and an 'Open area'). Gag exhibited complex spatial ecology; females formed pre-spawning aggregations before migrating to deep-water spawning sites, which overlapped with locations where males were sampled year-round. The observed male sex ratio in the MPA was 5% compared to the expected 15%. It was 0% in less protected areas. Sex change occurred occasionally in small fish and before, during, and after the spawning season. In addition, sex change was observed in pre-spawning female-only aggregations as well on the spawning grounds, indicating that male social cues are not requisite. We propose that shallow-water, pre-spawning aggregations are a key spatio-temporal bottleneck to gag productivity. They appear to be an important source of transitionals and are heavily fished, which may negatively impact male recruitment to the spawning grounds. Our results indicate that overall gag abundance is low, MPAs do not protect all recruiting males (as previously assumed), and current regulations are not sufficient for the male population to recover to historic levels (~17% male).

KEY WORDS: Movement ecology · Mating strategy · Sex change · Gag grouper · Marine protected areas · MPAs

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Cite this article as: Lowerre-Barbieri S, Menendez H, Bickford J, Switzer TS, Barbieri L, Koenig C (2020) Testing assumptions about sex change and spatial management in the protogynous gag grouper, Mycteroperca microlepis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 639:199-214.

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