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Physical and biological processes controlling the distribution of fish larvae in the NW Mediterranean

AuthorsSabatés, Ana CSIC ORCID ; Olivar, M. Pilar CSIC ORCID ; Salat, Jordi CSIC ORCID ; Palomera, Isabel CSIC ORCID ; Alemany, Francesc
KeywordsFish spawning strategies
Fish larvae
Physical-biological interactions
NW Mediterranean
Issue Date30-Apr-2007
CitationProgress in Oceanography 74(2-3): 355-376 (2007)
AbstractThe Mediterranean is globally considered an oligotrophic sea. However, there are some places or certain seasons in which mechanisms that enhance fertility may occur. These mechanisms and related processes are especially relevant when they take place during the period of larval development. This study analyzes how environmental conditions occurring in the NW Mediterranean, at local and seasonal scales, contribute to determine the temporal and spatial patterns of fish reproductive activity in the region. The structure of the bathymetry, types of bottoms, diversity of adult fish habitats, as well as mechanisms conditioning the primary production of the region determine the location of spawning, whereas physical processes (e.g., shelf-slope density front and associated current, continental water inflows, winter mixing, stratification of the water column) determine the final distribution patterns of fish eggs and larvae. High larval concentrations occur over the edge of the continental shelf in relation to the presence of the shelf-slope front and its associated convergence. However, this pattern is subject to considerable spatio-temporal variability, due to frontal mesoscale activity. High larval abundance can also be observed near the coast in zones with topographic irregularities that can greatly modify circulation favouring penetration of slope waters into the shelf. Finally, larvae of large pelagic migratory species are mainly distributed in areas under the influence of recent Atlantic Water (AW) and near the frontal system between these inflowing AW and the more saline waters of the northern basin. A pronounced seasonal variability regarding both the number of species and the number of fish larvae in the plankton can be observed throughout the year. The two dominant species, sardine and anchovy, have non-overlapping spawning periods, autumn–winter and spring–summer, respectively. The diversity of feeding patterns as well as the fact that different fish species have different spawning periods might reduce inter- and intra-specific competition for food resources in this area. Most NW Mediterranean fish reproduce during the spring–summer stratification period, when the phytoplankton biomass values at the upper layers of the water column are lower than in winter. The development of the Deep Chlorophyll Maximum in this period and the high zooplankton biomass associated to it offers an important food source for the larvae. Additionally, during this period the inputs of continental waters in certain areas are one of the fertilization mechanisms of surface waters and some species, as anchovy, takes advantage of this situation. Autumn–winter is the period with lower ichthyoplankton diversity, being dominated by sardine, which reproduces on the continental shelf. The mixing of the water column during winter is one of the mechanisms that enhances productivity on continental shelves. Moreover, there are no intense currents on the shelf and the circulation is usually anticyclonic, favouring larval retention in this zone. Fish species show reproductive strategies and larval fish behaviour that allow them to take advantage of the available resources throughout the seasonal cycle. These strategies, together with the high ecological efficiency of oligotrophic systems, contribute to the relatively high yield of Mediterranean fisheries
Description22 pages, 8 figures.-- Issue title: "Ecological Functioning of the Iberian Seas: A synthesis of GLOBEC Research in Spain and Portugal"
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