Winter mortality has been hypothesized to select for large body size in young-of-the-year (YOY) fishes, yet substantiation of winter mortality and its cause(s) are available for few estuarine or marine species. We examined seasonal length distributions of wild populations of four common marine species, black sea bass (Centropristis striata), tautog (Tautoga onitis), cunner (Tautogolabrus adspersus), and smallmouth flounder (Etropus microstomus), and mortality (i.e., frequency of death), growth, and behavior of their YOY in the laboratory at ambient winter temperatures (mean 7°C, range 2-13°C) during a 135-day period (December 1992 through mid-April 1993) to establish potential causes of their mortality in the field. Young-of-the-year black sea bass experienced 100% mortality when water temperatures decreased to 2-3°C in February, emphasizing the importance of winter emigration from estuaries in this southern species. The low mortality of two labrid species, YOY tautog (14%) and YOY cunner (3%), was consistent with their northern distribution and year-round occurrence in estuarine and nearshore coastal waters. Laboratory mortality of YOY smallmouth flounder (33%) was higher for small (< 35 mm total length) fish, suggesting that this small species may experience high winter mortality in estuaries and near-shore coastal waters. Seasonal differences in fish length result potentially from several mechanisms (e.g., mortality and/or migration) that are difficult to assess, but our laboratory experiments suggest that seasonal temperature changes cause size-specific mortality of YOY smallmouth flounder and offshore migration of YOY black sea bass.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science