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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Small scale differences in blue cod length distribution, growth, and trophic ecology in New Zealand

Stina Kolodzey*, Anna K. Stroh, Stephen R. Wing

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Growth and reproduction in marine fish populations can be strongly influenced by local habitat quality and nutritional resources. Habitat degradation can alter prey composition and availability, and, consequentially, trophic position and dietary niche breadth of marine fish. In the present study, we compared length-frequency distributions, growth, stomach contents, and isotopic values (δ13C and δ15N) of blue cod (Parapercis colias) subpopulations from biogenic reef habitats and habitats that were more strongly influenced by shellfish dredges and fine sediment in New Zealand. Blue cod inhabiting more degraded regions were significantly smaller and relied on different prey items than blue cod from biogenic reef habitats. SIBER results indicated that the isotopic niche areas of blue cod occupying degraded habitats were smaller than those of blue cod inhabiting relatively undisturbed biogenic reefs. The simmr isotopic mixing models demonstrated that blue cod from one of the biogenic reef regions relied predominantly on suspended particulate organic matter, while blue cod from the other biogenic and degraded regions primarily relied on macroalgae as their organic matter source. Dietary niche overlap was likely higher for blue cod from degraded habitats, with potential consequences for growth and reproduction. Blue cod inhabiting biogenic reefs showed a high degree of individual specialisation. The present study demonstrated that differences in length distribution, growth, and trophic ecology among blue cod subpopulations coincided with differences in habitat degradation. Ecosystem-based management solutions can help regenerate high quality biogenic habitats while reducing fisheries mortality within these critical habitats.