Faunal Composition and Distribution of Pelagic Larval and Juvenile Flatfishes (Teleostei: Pleuronectiformes) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico: Connectivity Between Coastal and Oceanic Epipelagic Ecosystems
M.S. Marine Biology
Pleuronectiformes (flatfishes) occur throughout the global oceans, and have high ecological and commercial importance in some areas. Though much is known regarding life history, abundance, and distribution for the benthic adult stage of flatfish species, much less is known about the pelagic larval phases of flatfishes in the open ocean. Taxonomic uncertainty and limited sampling in the oceanic Gulf of Mexico contribute to data gaps with respect to the distribution of early life history stage of flatfishes in this region. Knowledge of the faunal composition, abundance and distribution of larval flatfishes, such as members of Bothus, which have extended pelagic phases, is important for modeling their population dynamics as well as for understanding the importance of connectivity between neritic and oceanic ecosystems in their life histories. Pleuronectiform specimens utilized in this study were collected in the northern offshore Gulf of Mexico during several cruises conducted throughout 2010-2011 as part of the NOAA Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (DWHOS). The Offshore Nekton Sampling and Analysis program (ONSAP) was established to determine composition, abundance and distribution of deep-water invertebrates and fishes in Gulf of Mexico waters that were potentially affected by the DWHOS. Results of the first large-scale discrete-depth distributional analysis of fishes in this region revealed that flatfishes were an intrinsic component of the oceanic ichthyofauna of these waters. A total of 2365 flatfish specimens were collected in offshore waters, representing four families and 11 of the 18 genera that occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Species composition was dominated by members of the genus Bothus, which had a high frequency of occurrence in the epipelagic zone throughout the year. Citharichthys spilopterus and Trichopsetta ventralis were the second- and third-most abundant and frequently occurring taxa, respectively. Detailed spatial analyses of taxa in the epipelagic zone revealed that larvae of Citharichthys spilopterus were only collected in winter and occurred most frequently near the continental shelf break, while early life stages of Bothus spp. were more abundant at the northern convergence flow of a large anticyclonic Loop Current eddy during spring and summer.
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Lacey Malarky. 2015. Faunal Composition and Distribution of Pelagic Larval and Juvenile Flatfishes (Teleostei: Pleuronectiformes) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico: Connectivity Between Coastal and Oceanic Epipelagic Ecosystems. Master's thesis. Nova Southeastern University. Retrieved from NSUWorks, . (397)