Variation in pelagic larval growth of Atlantic billfishes: the role of prey composition and selective mortality

Abstract

Atlantic blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) and sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) larvae were collected from 10 monthly cruises (June–October 2003 and 2004) across the Straits of Florida to test (1) whether growth differed between the more productive western region near the Florida shelf, and the less productive eastern region toward the Bahamas, and (2) whether growth was related to prey consumption. Examination of larval sagittal otoliths revealed that instantaneous growth and daily growth during the first 2–3 weeks of life did not vary significantly between the two regions for either species. However, recent growth during the last two full days prior to collection was greater in the west for blue marlin larvae. Recent growth of blue marlin larvae <9 mm SL (primarily zooplanktivorous) was significantly related to prey composition (faster growth when higher proportions of Farranula copepods were consumed). Western larvae grew faster and had higher proportions of Farranula in their guts. Trends for sailfish larvae were not significant. In both species, comparison of early growth between <9 and ≥9 mm SL size groups indicated that growth trajectories diverged around 5–8 mm SL, the time when billfish larvae become capable of piscivory. Significantly faster growth of larger (older) larvae suggests that mortality was selective for fast growers and that the transition to piscivory may be a critical point in the early life of billfish.

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Acknowledgments

The project was supported by a National Science Foundation grant (OCE 0136132) to RKC, SS, S. Smith, K. Leaman, D. Olson, and J. Serafy and a grant from the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (Billfish-2005-017) to RKC and SS. Additional support was provided by a gift from Arthur B. Choate to the University of Miami’s Billfish Research Program. D. Richardson, C. Guigand, P. Lane, A. Shiroza, K. Leaman, P. Vertes, K. Huebert, and S. Smith participated in shipboard cruises. All samples were collected under UM ACUC permits # 02063 and 05134. Sample sorting was conducted by L. Gundlach, A. Exum, and S. Trbovich. D. Richardson assisted with larval identification, and J. Walter provided statistical advice.

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Correspondence to Su Sponaugle.

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Communicated by M. A. Peck.

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Sponaugle, S., Walter, K.D., Denit, K.L. et al. Variation in pelagic larval growth of Atlantic billfishes: the role of prey composition and selective mortality. Mar Biol 157, 839–849 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-009-1366-z

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Keywords

  • Standard Length
  • Larval Growth
  • Recent Growth
  • Daily Growth
  • Fish Prey