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Evidence of post-larval growth-selective mortality in Atlantic mackerel revealed by the collection of young-of-the-year juveniles ingested by the northern gannet

Safouane Khamassi*, Lola Coussau, Magella Guillemette, Dominique Robert

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The Growth-Survival Paradigm predicts that year-class strength is determined by growth-dependent mortality during the larval stage. In Atlantic mackerel Scomber scombrus, the possibility that strong growth-dependent mortality extends into the early juvenile stage has not previously been tested because of the difficulty in sampling young-of-the-year (YOY) juveniles. The present study determined the timing of the ‘endpoint’ during the early ontogeny when growth-selective mortality decreases and recruitment is set. We relied on regurgitations from one of the main predators of mackerel, the northern gannet Morus bassanus, as a source of YOY juveniles. Early growth trajectories of YOY mackerel were reconstructed from the otolith microstructure and were compared to that of one-year-old (OYO) juveniles from the same cohort for the year classes of 2015 and 2017. In both cohorts, the early growth trajectory of OYO fish was faster than that of YOY juveniles, indicating that growth-selective mortality extended beyond the larval stage. For the 2017 cohort, the comparison of larval growth trajectories between 2-mo-old YOY, 3-mo-old YOY, and OYO juveniles indicated that strong selection for fast growth persisted until the pre-wintering period, but that winter mortality likely did not play an important role in shaping year-class strength. These findings suggest that in Atlantic mackerel, the endpoint when the relative strength of cohorts is fixed occurs at the age of 3 mo. These results point to the importance of considering growth-dependent mortality processes occurring beyond the larval stage to obtain a better understanding of causes of recruitment variability.