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Parental care and demography of a spawning population of the channichthyid Neopagetopsis ionah, Nybelin 1947 from the Weddell Sea

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Parental care is a rather common reproductive strategy in fishes, particularly in species with low fecundity and large eggs as the Antarctic icefish (Channichthyidae). The infrequent use of underwater devices to record fish behaviour and the logistic limitations of operating in the Antarctic marine environment have prevented, so far, the collection of data about rare species. Integrating results from benthic trawling and underwater photographic images, we provide the first demographic and reproductive behavioural data for the channichthyid Neopagetopsis ionah, describing the nesting and parental care behaviour of a spawning population in the south-eastern Weddell Sea. The population sampled by the Agassiz trawl was dominated by females, and consisted of several post-spawning as well as a few mature females spread over a narrow size range. Based on otolith reading, the population included two cohorts estimated as four- and five-year-old fish. Following common trade-off between fecundity and egg size, females of N. ionah spawned few large eggs (733–1810 eggs/female, 4.9–6.5 mm in diameter). The nesting site was characterized by fine sediments with sparse gravel and the accompanying benthic invertebrate community showed low densities and was relatively poor. A total of 93 nests were counted along the video transect, most of them with a single guarding male or left unattended. Fish remains or whole dead specimens were frequently observed in the proximity of the nest. This observation represents the first record of post-spawning mortality associated with parental care which has never been documented before in Antarctic fishes.

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We thank the Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschuna ll and all the crew members and personnel aboard RV Polarsternduring PS 82 expedition for their invaluable contribution. The authors are also grateful to Maj Wetjen, Kai Wätjen and Rainer Knust, Massimiliano Babbucci (Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research) for their support in sample collection. We sincerely thank Esteban Barrera-Oro, Alberta Mandich and Katja Mintenbeck, whose comments greatly improved the early draft of the manuscript. CP acknowledges financial support from the University of Padua (BIRD164793/16, SEED2019) and from the European Marie Curie project 'Polarexpress' Grant No. 622320. This study was conducted within the project 2013/C1.07, and MLM acknowledges financial support of the Italian National Antarctic Research Program (PNRA) and by the Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università`e della Ricerca (MIUR).

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ER, CM and ML conceived and designed the research. ER, NK, AB and CP contributed in fish sampling and processing. SEAP and DG edited and analysed seabed images, while HB gave technical support in images capture. ER and ML analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. All authors revised and approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mario La Mesa.

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All authors declare that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest or non-financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.

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All applicable institutional, national or international guidelines for the use and care of animals were strictly followed in the study.

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Riginella, E., Pineda-Metz, S.E.A., Gerdes, D. et al. Parental care and demography of a spawning population of the channichthyid Neopagetopsis ionah, Nybelin 1947 from the Weddell Sea. Polar Biol 44, 1725–1735 (2021).

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