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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Climate-associated trends and variability in ichthyoplankton phenology from the longest, continuous larval fish time series on the East Coast of the United States

W. Christopher Thaxton, J. Christopher Taylor, Rebecca G. Asch*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, variation in the direction and magnitude of shifts in species occurrence in space and time may disrupt interspecific interactions in ecological communities. In this study, we examined how the fall and winter ichthyoplankton community in the Newport River Estuary located inshore of Pamlico Sound in the Southeast United States has responded to environmental variability over the last 27 yr. We relate the timing of estuarine ingress of 10 larval fish species to changes in sea surface temperature (SST), the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation, wind strength and phenology, and tidal height. We also examined whether any species exhibited trends in ingress phenology over the last 3 decades. Species varied in the magnitude of their responses to all of the environmental variables studied, but most shared a common direction of change. SST and northerly wind strength had the largest impact on estuarine ingress phenology, with most species ingressing earlier during warm years and delaying ingress during years with strong northerly winds. As SST warms in the coming decades, the average date of ingress of some species (Atlantic croaker Micropogonias undulatus, summer flounder Paralichthys dentatus, pinfish Lagodon rhomboides) is projected to advance on the order of weeks to months, assuming temperatures do not exceed a threshold at which species can no longer respond through changes in phenology. These shifts in ingress could affect larval survival and growth since environmental conditions in the estuarine and pelagic nursery habitats of fishes also vary seasonally.