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Assemblage structure, vertical distributions and stable‐isotope compositions of anguilliform leptocephali in the Gulf of Mexico

February 19, 2019

In August 2007, October 2008 and September–October 2010, 241 Tucker trawl and plankton net tows were conducted at the surface to depths of 1377 m at six locations in the northern and eastern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) to document leptocephalus diversity and determine how assemblage structure, larval size, abundance and isotopic signatures differ across the region and with depth. Overall, 2696 leptocephali representing 59 distinct taxa from 10 families were collected. Five families accounted for 96% of the total catch with Congridae and Ophichthidae being the most abundant. The top four most abundant species composed 59% of the total catch and included: Ariosoma balearicum, Paraconger caudilimbatus, Rhynchoconger flavus and Ophichthus gomesii. Four anguilliform species not previously documented in the GOM as adults or leptocephali were collected in this study, including Monopenchelys acuta, Quassiremus ascensionis, Saurenchelys stylura and one leptocephalus only known from its larval stage, Leptocephalus proboscideus. Leptocephalus catches were significantly greater at night than during the day. Catches at night were concentrated in the upper 200 m of the water column and significantly declined with increasing depth. Leptocephali abundances and assemblages were significantly different between sites on the upper continental slope (c. 500 m depth) and sites on the middle to lower continental slope (c. 1500–2300 m). Sites on the lower continental slope had a mixture of deep‐sea demersal, bathypelagic and coastal species, whereas upper‐slope sites contained several numerically dominant species (e.g., A. balearicum, P. caudilimbatus) that probably spawn over the continental shelf and upper slope of the GOM. Standard lengths of the four dominant species differed between sites and years, indicating heterochronic reproduction and potential larval source pools within and outside of the GOM. Stable‐isotope analyses (δ13C and δ15N) conducted on 185 specimens from six families revealed that leptocephali had a wide range of isotopic values at the family and size‐class levels. Species in the families Muraenidae, Congridae and Ophichthidae had similar δ15N values compared with the broad range of δ15N values seen in the deep‐sea families Nemichthyidae, Nettastomatidae and Synaphobranchidae. Stable‐isotope values were variably related to length, with δ15N values being positively size correlated in ophichthids and δ13C values being negatively size correlated in A. balearicum and P. caudilimbatus. Results suggest that leptocephali feed in various water depths and masses, and on different components of POM, which could lead to niche partitioning. Ecological aspects of these important members of the plankton community provide insight into larval connectivity in the GOM as well as the early life history of Anguilliformes.

Publication Year 2019
Title Assemblage structure, vertical distributions and stable‐isotope compositions of anguilliform leptocephali in the Gulf of Mexico
DOI 10.1111/jfb.13933
Authors Andrea M. Quattrini, Jennifer McClain Counts, Stephen J. Artabane, Adela Roa-Varon, Tara C. McIver, Michael Rhode, Steve W. Ross
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Fish Biology
Index ID 70205978
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center