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Spatiotemporal patterns in early life stage winter flounder Pseudopleuronectes americanus highlight phenology changes and habitat dependencies

M. Conor McManus*, Joseph A. Langan, Richard J. Bell, Jeremy S. Collie, Grace Klein-MacPhee, Michael D. Scherer, Richard G. Balouskus

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Decadal changes in the life history events of marine species are becoming increasingly important to identify under a warming climate, yet many long-term monitoring programs do not collect data at the spatiotemporal resolution needed to describe them. Such data are vital for understanding the southern New England/Mid-Atlantic winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) stock, a species hypothesized to be adversely impacted by warming waters via increased temporal overlap between its early life stages and predators. To provide insight into winter flounder early life history dynamics and context for the stock’s resiliency, we examined ichthyoplankton data collected from two monitoring programs within Narragansett Bay, RI, USA – one spatially comprehensive across the Bay proper (2001-2008, 2016-2017), and the other a longer time series centered in one of the Bay’s sub-estuaries (Mount Hope Bay, 1972-2017). By leveraging these datasets together, we conducted a spatiotemporal synthesis of early life stage winter flounder by evaluating changes in larval phenology, decadal coherence in larval spatial patterns, and correspondence between larvae and their subsequent life stage. We identified changes in larval phenology via earlier seasonal peaks in density through time. Results also indicated stable larval spatial patterns during a period of larval decline, as well as spatial coherence between larval and young-of-the-year stages. Using winter flounder as a model species, our results highlight the importance of high resolution spatiotemporal ichthyoplankton sampling to identify changes in phenology and site-fidelity for marine fishes.