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Novel deep-water spawning patterns of bonefish (Albula vulpes), a shallow water fish


Coastal marine fishes that form spawning aggregations most commonly exhibit a two-point movement pattern, with locations separated by migration: home range to spawning aggregation site and return to home range. However, the bonefish, Albula vulpes, partakes in a unique three-point spawning migration. Bonefish migrate up to 80 km from shallow water home flats to form nearshore pre-spawning aggregations (PSA) before moving offshore to spawn. Although these broad patterns have previously been documented, details of the offshore spawning-associated diving behavior have yet to be rigorously examined. Using active acoustic telemetry and sonar data in 2019 in Abaco, The Bahamas, we provide a complete account of bonefish offshore spawning movements and novel deep diving behavior to 137.9 m. Bonefish were continuously observed at depths ≥ 100 m for 2 h; a time period that included multiple depth changes and culminated in a spawning ascent to 67.3 m at 0.57 m s−1. These new data on bonefish offshore movements and deep dives, coupled with CTD data, suggest that bonefish actively spawn at pycnoclines and thermoclines. Two previous tracking attempts (2013, 2018) at this location reflect spatiotemporal plasticity in spawning, a behavior counter to other aggregation forming fishes. This is the first detailed documentation of such deep spawning for a shallow water coastal fish species. The ecological motivation for diving to the deepest depths remains speculative. Future work must examine the dynamic relationship between bonefish diving behavior, spawning site selection, and oceanographic features.

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The datasets presented in this article are not readily available due to their inclusion in ongoing research. You may reach out to the authors regarding data requests.

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The R code written and executed within R Studio may be provided through a request to the authors. No novel data handling schemas or tools were created in the analysis process of this research.


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Funding for this research was provided by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Special support was provided by the Fisheries Research Foundation and the captain and crew of M/Y Albula, without whom this discovery would not have been possible. The work was conducted under The Bahamas Department of Marine Resources permit: MA&MR/FIS/17. Thank you to A. Cianciotto for assisting in bonefish captures, and to M. Laak and J. Hopps of M/Y Albula, J. Lewis and J. Wilson of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and R. Roemer, for their assistance and perseverance through rough seas and long nights during overnight tracking operations. We acknowledge the work of C. Vaczo, B. Metzger, and M. Petroski of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute for engineering and machining the directional hydrophone mount that was integral in overcoming the unique challenge of tracking fish to such great depths.


This work was funded through a grant given by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust research funds. Research field support was granted by the Fisheries Research Foundation.

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SL, AA, AD, CL, and MA were all involved in field operations and data acquisition, with AA and AD conducting work in 2013, and SL, AA, CL, and MA conducting work in 2018 and 2019. AA performed surgery and tagging procedures. The text, analyses, table, and Figs were prepared by SL, and internally edited and reviewed by AA, AD, CL, and MA.

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Correspondence to Steven M. Lombardo.

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The submitted work was not carried out in the presence of any personal, professional, or financial relationships.

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The non-profit institution Bonefish and Tarpon Trust conducted the tagging, and does not have a formal animal care and safety requirement for research. All precautions were taken to ensure fish survival, and BTT uses commonly accepted and applied methods for fish care. All measures were taken to minimize animal pain and suffering during collection and tagging. Research methods and procedures were reviewed and approved by The Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources under permit: MA&MR/FIS/17.

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Lombardo, S.M., Adams, A.J., Danylchuk, A.J. et al. Novel deep-water spawning patterns of bonefish (Albula vulpes), a shallow water fish. Mar Biol 167, 187 (2020).

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