Larval ecology of the great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda, and other sphyraenids in the Straits of Florida

Abstract

The great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) is a widespread, ecologically and socioeconomically important coastal fish, yet very little is known about its larvae. We examined spawning and larval ecology of Western Atlantic sphyraenids using monthly ichthyoplankton samples collected over 2 years along a transect spanning the east–west axis of the Straits of Florida (SOF). Samples were dominated by the great barracuda (92.8%) and sennets (Sphyraena borealis and Sphyraena picudilla; 6.6%). While larval sennets and S. barracuda displayed similar vertical distributions (majority in upper 25 m), horizontal and temporal patterns of abundance suggested a spatial and temporal species replacement between larval S. barracuda and sennets that tracks adult ecology. The diet of both taxa consisted largely of copepods, with inclusion of fish larvae at 8 mm SL, and in S. barracuda alone, a switch in the wet season to exclusive piscivory by 12 mm SL (18 days post-hatch). A lack of piscivory in S. barracuda larvae captured in the dry season corresponded to slower larval growth than in the wet season. Larval growth was also related to size-at-hatch and larval age such that larvae that were larger at hatch or larger (older) at capture grew faster at earlier ages, suggesting faster larval growth, and indirectly larger hatch size, conveys a survival advantage. Unlike larval growth, instantaneous mortality rate did not differ with season, and no lunar cyclic patterns in spawning output were identified. Our results provide insight into the pelagic phase of sphyraenids and highlight the importance of both diet and hatch size to the growth and survival of fish larvae in low latitude oceanic environments.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by a National Science Foundation grant (OCE 0136132) to R. K. Cowen, S. Sponaugle, S. Smith, K. Leaman, D. Olson, and J. Serafy, and a Don deSylva Memorial Award, International Light Tackle Tournament Association research grant, Harry D. Vernon Scholarship, and Circle of Friends Memorial Scholarship to E. K. D’Alessandro. 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 University of Miami Animal Care and Use Committee permit nos. 02063 and 05134. L. Gundlach, A. Exum, and S. Trbovich sorted samples, and D. Richardson assisted with family level identifications. Assistance with morphological identification was provided by C. Paris-Limouzy, and assistance with molecular identification of larvae was provided by D. Crawford and A. Esbaugh. C. Gioia helped with otolith dissection, and M. Schmale provided the fluorescent transmission light microscope for use in daily increment validation. Valuable and thoughtful comments from J. Serafy, D. Lirman, A. Acosta, M. Peck, and two anonymous reviewers improved an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to E. K. D’Alessandro.

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Communicated by M. A. Peck.

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D’Alessandro, E.K., Sponaugle, S., Llopiz, J.K. et al. Larval ecology of the great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda, and other sphyraenids in the Straits of Florida. Mar Biol 158, 2625–2638 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-011-1771-y

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Keywords

  • Larval Fish
  • Larval Growth
  • Increment Width
  • Rayleigh Test
  • Slope Test