Vertical distribution and growth performance of Baltic cod larvae – Field evidence for starvation-induced recruitment regulation during the larval stage?.

Huwer, Bastian, Clemmesen, Catriona , Grønkjær, Peter and Köster, Friedrich W. (2011) Vertical distribution and growth performance of Baltic cod larvae – Field evidence for starvation-induced recruitment regulation during the larval stage?. Progress in Oceanography, 91 (4). pp. 382-396. DOI 10.1016/j.pocean.2011.04.001.

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Abstract

Besides variable egg survival, previous studies suggested that the larval stage may be the most critical phase in determining Baltic cod recruitment variability, and that larvae need to conduct an ontogenetic vertical migration from hatching depths (>50 m) to upper layers with increased food availability in order to initiate first feeding, improve their nutritional condition and growth, and avoid starvation. Recently, detailed information on the stage-resolved vertical distribution of main Baltic copepod species, including the preferred larval Baltic cod prey species Pseudocalanus acuspes, has become available. Therefore, the vertical distribution of Baltic cod larvae in August 2007 and their depth-dependent nutritional condition and growth were investigated. RNA–DNA based methods were used to estimate growth, including a novel approach to estimate growth performance by relating observed specific growth rates (SGR) of field caught larvae to temperature-dependent reference growth rates (Gref) for fast-growing laboratory reared fish from the literature. This standardization to Gref was found to have a great potential to improve investigations on the growth and ecology of larval fish. The need for early larvae to migrate to shallower layers was corroborated, while larger size classes were found at increasingly greater depths. This may reflect a continuation of the ontogenetic vertical migration in order to follow increasingly larger prey items at greater depths and to save energy in cooler waters below the thermocline. Larval growth generally declined with increasing depth, but the decline in growth became less pronounced in larger size classes. This indicates that larger larvae were better in coping with the ambient environment and the available prey field at greater depths. Generally, Baltic cod larvae grew poorly compared to larvae from other studies, which is discussed in relation to differences in predation and a possible food–temperature trade-off for larvae in the highly stratified Baltic Sea. Comparison with earlier results showed a higher frequency of starving larvae and lower frequencies of larger larvae after the first-feeding stage in 1994 and 1995. As this was a period of low Baltic cod recruitment despite favourable conditions for egg survival, it is concluded that larval starvation mortality has a high potential to contribute to recruitment variability in Baltic cod.
Highlights

► We investigate the vertical distribution and depth-dependent growth of Baltic cod larvae. ► We apply a novel approach which relates observed growth rates to reference growth rates in order to obtain growth performance. ► Assessing growth performance was found to be a valuable tool in studies on the growth and ecology of larval fish. ► The need for an ontogenetic first-feeding migration was corroborated and growth generally declined with increasing depth. ► Baltic cod larvae were generally growing badly, suggesting starvation-induced recruitment regulation during the larval stage.

Document Type: Article
Keywords: Ichthyology; Baltic cod larvae; AL303; ALKOR
Research affiliation: OceanRep > GEOMAR > FB3 Marine Ecology > FB3-EV Marine Evolutionary Ecology
Refereed: Yes
Open Access Journal?: No
DOI etc.: 10.1016/j.pocean.2011.04.001
ISSN: 0079-6611
Projects: GLOBEC, EUR-OCEANS, Future Ocean
Expeditions/Models/Experiments:
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2011 12:09
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2019 18:53
URI: http://oceanrep.geomar.de/id/eprint/11917

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