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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Linking variability in early life growth of Sardinella lemuru to changes in habitat conditions in Zamboanga upwelling system, Sulu Sea, Philippines

Alexanra Bagarinao-Regalado*, Wilfredo L. Campos

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The year-class success of small pelagic fish is strongly modulated by the growth and survival of early life stages; consequently, understanding how environments control growth is critical to understanding processes influencing annual production. We provide the first measurements of larval growth in Sardinella lemuru, the most abundant and exploited tropical sardine species in the Philippines. Growth rates of larvae were examined across a 2 yr period (2011-2012 and 2012-2013 spawning seasons) using otolith microstructure analysis. The age-at-transition to the juvenile stage occurred within 25 to 37 d. Mean growth rate of the 2011 year-class was significantly lower than the 2012 year-class despite significant intra-annual (batch) differences in growth trajectories. In both years, larvae that hatched and developed in the cooler yet prey-rich period in the middle of the spawning season (January) displayed the fastest growth, while those spawned early (Sep-Oct 2012) and late (Feb-Mar 2012) showed the slowest growth rates. Peak hatch-months (Dec 2011 and Oct 2012 batches) were just prior to periods of upwelling, with mean prey concentrations of 0.24 ± 0.13 mg m-3 at 26.35 ± 2.56°C sea surface temperature (SST) and 0.23 ± 0.15 mg m-3 at 26.26 ± 1.79°C, respectively. The SST during upwelling was 0.01 to 1.23°C cooler accompanied by a 0.07 to 0.45 mg m-3 increase in prey concentration. In both years, differences in growth rate were strongly linked to oceanographic conditions. Moderate winds during a ‘neutral’ El Niño-Southern Oscillation year resulted in upwelling conditions favoring faster overall growth in larvae which was associated with stronger sardine recruitment. In contrast, slower growth and weaker recruitment was associated with weak upwelling conditions in the 2011-2012 La Niña year. While temperature may be important, larval growth rates appear to be driven more by prey abundance.