Spatial scale, means and gradients of hydrographic variables define pelagic seascapes of bluefin and bullet tuna spawning distribution.
ABSTRACT: Seascape ecology is an emerging discipline focused on understanding how features of the marine habitat influence the spatial distribution of marine species. However, there is still a gap in the development of concepts and techniques for its application in the marine pelagic realm, where there are no clear boundaries delimitating habitats. Here we demonstrate that pelagic seascape metrics defined as a combination of hydrographic variables and their spatial gradients calculated at an appropriate spatial scale, improve our ability to model pelagic fish distribution. We apply the analysis to study the spawning locations of two tuna species: Atlantic bluefin and bullet tuna. These two species represent a gradient in life history strategies. Bluefin tuna has a large body size and is a long-distant migrant, while bullet tuna has a small body size and lives year-round in coastal waters within the Mediterranean Sea. The results show that the models performance incorporating the proposed seascape metrics increases significantly when compared with models that do not consider these metrics. This improvement is more important for Atlantic bluefin, whose spawning ecology is dependent on the local oceanographic scenario, than it is for bullet tuna, which is less influenced by the hydrographic conditions. Our study advances our understanding of how species perceive their habitat and confirms that the spatial scale at which the seascape metrics provide information is related to the spawning ecology and life history strategy of each species.
Project description:Directed fishing effort for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), their primary spawning grounds in the western Atlantic, has been prohibited since the 1980s due to a precipitous decline of the spawning stock biomass. However, pelagic longlines targeted at other species, primarily yellowfin tuna and swordfish, continue to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna in the GOM as bycatch. Spatial and temporal management measures minimizing bluefin tuna bycatch in the GOM will likely become important in rebuilding the western Atlantic bluefin stock. In order to help inform management policy and understand the relative distribution of target and bycatch species in the GOM, we compared the spatiotemporal variability and environmental influences on the catch per unit effort (CPUE) of yellowfin (target) and bluefin tuna (bycatch). Catch and effort data from pelagic longline fisheries observers (1993-2005) and scientific tagging cruises (1998-2002) were coupled with environmental and biological data. Negative binomial models were used to fit the data for both species and Akaike's Information Criterion (corrected for small sample size) was used to determine the best model. Our results indicate that bluefin CPUE had higher spatiotemporal variability as compared to yellowfin CPUE. Bluefin CPUE increased substantially during the breeding months (March-June) and peaked in April and May, while yellowfin CPUE remained relatively high throughout the year. In addition, bluefin CPUE was significantly higher in areas with negative sea surface height anomalies and cooler sea surface temperatures, which are characteristic of mesoscale cyclonic eddies. In contrast, yellowfin CPUE was less sensitive to environmental variability. These differences in seasonal variability and sensitivity to environmental influences suggest that bluefin tuna bycatch in the GOM can be reduced substantially by managing the spatial and temporal distribution of the pelagic longline effort without substantially impacting yellowfin tuna catches.
Project description:The lucrative and highly migratory Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus (Linnaeus 1758; Scombridae), used to be distributed widely throughout the north Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. Its migrations have supported sustainable fisheries and impacted local cultures since antiquity, but its biogeographic range has contracted since the 1950s. Most recently, the species disappeared from the Black Sea in the late 1980s and has not yet recovered. Reasons for the Black Sea disappearance, and the species-wide range contraction, are unclear. However bluefin tuna formerly foraged and possibly spawned in the Black Sea. Loss of a locally-reproducing population would represent a decline in population richness, and an increase in species vulnerability to perturbations such as exploitation and environmental change. Here we identify the main genetic and phenotypic adaptations that the population must have (had) in order to reproduce successfully in the specific hydrographic (estuarine) conditions of the Black Sea. By comparing hydrographic conditions in spawning areas of the three species of bluefin tunas, and applying a mechanistic model of egg buoyancy and sinking rate, we show that reproduction in the Black Sea must have required specific adaptations of egg buoyancy, fertilisation and development for reproductive success. Such adaptations by local populations of marine fish species spawning in estuarine areas are common as is evident from a meta-analysis of egg buoyancy data from 16 species of fish. We conclude that these adaptations would have been necessary for successful local reproduction by bluefin tuna in the Black Sea, and that a locally-adapted reproducing population may have disappeared. Recovery of bluefin tuna in the Black Sea, either for spawning or foraging, will occur fastest if any remaining locally adapted individuals are allowed to survive, and by conservation and recovery of depleted Mediterranean populations which could through time re-establish local Black Sea spawning and foraging.
Project description:Life-history traits such as spawning migrations and timing of reproduction are adaptations to specific environmental constraints and seasonal cycles in many organisms' annual routines. In this study we analyse how offspring fitness constrains spawning phenology in a large migratory apex predator, the Atlantic bluefin tuna. The reproductive schedule of Atlantic bluefin tuna varies between spawning sites, suggesting plasticity to local environmental conditions. Generally, temperature is considered to be the main constraint on tuna spawning phenology. We combine evidence from long-term field data, temperature-controlled rearing experiments on eggs and larvae, and a model of egg fitness, and show that Atlantic bluefin tuna do not spawn to optimize egg and larval temperature exposure. The timing of spawning leads to temperature exposure considerably lower than optimal at all spawning grounds across the Atlantic Ocean. The early spawning is constrained by thermal inhibition of egg hatching and larval growth rates, but some other factors must prevent later spawning. Matching offspring with ocean productivity and the prey peak might be an important driver for bluefin tuna spawning phenology. This finding is important for predictions of reproductive timing in future climate warming scenarios for bluefin tuna.
Project description:Atlantic bluefin tuna are a symbol of both the conflict between preservationist and utilitarian views of top ocean predators, and the struggle to reach international consensus on the management of migratory species. Currently, Atlantic bluefin tuna are managed as an early-maturing eastern stock, which spawns in the Mediterranean Sea, and a late-maturing western stock, which spawns in the Gulf of Mexico. However, electronic tagging studies show that many bluefin tuna, assumed to be of a mature size, do not visit either spawning ground during the spawning season. Whether these fish are spawning in an alternate location, skip-spawning, or not spawning until an older age affects how vulnerable this species is to anthropogenic stressors including exploitation. We use larval collections to demonstrate a bluefin tuna spawning ground in the Slope Sea, between the Gulf Stream and northeast United States continental shelf. We contend that western Atlantic bluefin tuna have a differential spawning migration, with larger individuals spawning in the Gulf of Mexico, and smaller individuals spawning in the Slope Sea. The current life history model, which assumes only Gulf of Mexico spawning, overestimates age at maturity for the western stock. Furthermore, individual tuna occupy both the Slope Sea and Mediterranean Sea in separate years, contrary to the prevailing view that individuals exhibit complete spawning-site fidelity. Overall, this complexity of spawning migrations questions whether there is complete independence in the dynamics of eastern and western Atlantic bluefin tuna and leads to lower estimates of the vulnerability of this species to exploitation and other anthropogenic stressors.
Project description:During routine monitoring of commercial purse seine catches in 2011, 87 fingerling specimens of scombrids were collected in the southern Adriatic Sea. Sequencing of the mitochondrial DNA control region locus inferred that specimens belonged to the Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus (Linnaeus, 1758) (N = 29), bullet tuna, Auxis rochei (Risso, 1810) (N = 30) and little tunny, Euthynnus alletteratus, Rafinesque, 1810 (N = 28). According to previously published growth parameters, the age of the collected specimens was estimated at approximately 30-40 days, suggesting they might have been spawned in the Adriatic Sea, contrary to the current knowledge. A coupled modelling system with hydrodynamic (ROMS) and individual based model (IBM-Ichthyop) was set up to determine the location of the spawning event. Numerical simulations with the IBM model, both backward and forward in time, indicate commercial tuna cages in the middle Adriatic coastal area as possible spawning location. The two other non-commercial species likely opportunistically use the positive environmental (abiotic and biotic) conditions to spawn in the same area.
Project description:We analyzed the movements of Atlantic tuna (Thunnus thynnus L.) in the Mediterranean Sea using data from 2 archival tags and 37 pop-up satellite archival tags (PAT). Bluefin tuna ranging in size from 12 to 248 kg were tagged on board recreational boats in the western Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea between May and September during two different periods (2000 to 2001 and 2008 to 2012). Although tuna migrations between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean have been well reported, our results indicate that part of the bluefin tuna population remains in the Mediterranean basin for much of the year, revealing a more complex population structure. In this study we demonstrate links between the western Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the Gulf of Sidra (Libya) using over 4336 recorded days of location and behavior data from tagged bluefin tuna with a maximum track length of 394 days. We described the oceanographic preferences and horizontal behaviors during the spawning season for 4 adult bluefin tuna. We also analyzed the time series data that reveals the vertical behavior of one pop-up satellite tag recovered, which was attached to a 43.9 kg tuna. This fish displayed a unique diving pattern within 16 days of the spawning season, suggesting a use of the thermocline as a thermoregulatory mechanism compatible with spawning. The results obtained hereby confirm that the Mediterranean is clearly an important habitat for this species, not only as spawning ground, but also as an overwintering foraging ground.
Project description:This study investigates the predation of P. noctiluca ephyrae on Atlantic Bluefin tuna (ABFT) eggs under different experimental conditions. The specific factors considered in the experimental design were: a) water mix conditions to explore predation under two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) prey distributions, b) prey density to investigate the ingestion rate capacity, and c) incubation time to inspect gut saturation. The eggs and jellyfish ephyrae were collected during the 2012 ABFT spawning survey off Ibiza (Balearic Isl., Western Mediterranean). The results showed that the proportion of feeding ephyrae increased with size. The mean clearance rate of feeding ephyrae, 4.14 L h(-1), was the highest ever recorded for ephyrae. Under calm conditions the eggs floated at the surface (2D spatial arrangement) and the clearance rates, at low prey densities, were at least twice those under mixed conditions (3D spatial arrangement). At high prey density, clearance rate did not differ between mix conditions, probably due to the fast gut saturation, which was reached in c.a. 15 min, as revealed by time series observations of gut contents. The fast saturation of ephyrae and their slow digestion time of approximately 18 h suggest the existence of a diel feeding periodicity. We conclude that in the Western Mediterranean, P. noctiluca ephyrae are capable of predating on ABFT eggs, a highly pulsed and spatially restricted resource that potentially switches from a 3D to a 2D configuration in the absence of wind-generated turbulence. The P. noctiluca and Atlantic Bluefin tuna egg system might represent an example of a general mechanism linking pelagic and neustonic food webs.
Project description:The number of studies of reproductive biology for Atlantic bluefin tuna carried out in the Gulf of Mexico is significantly lower than those undertaken in the Mediterranean Sea. Four spawning areas have been found for the eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna stock in the Mediterranean Sea, so it is not implausible that there is more than one spawning area in the Gulf of Mexico for the western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock. The individuals used in this study were caught as bycatch by the Mexican surface longline fleet between January and April 2015. A total of 63 individuals ranging between 192 and 293 cm LF (mean = 238 ± 22.52 cm) were measured. Gonads from 46 fish (31 females and 15 males) were collected for histological examination. All the individuals were classified as mature; 25 were reproductively active (in spawning capable and spawning stages). The histological analysis indicates spawning activity in Mexican waters (the southern Gulf of Mexico). Spawning occurred in March and April, when the sea surface temperature was 25.57 °C ± 0.69 in March and 27.03 °C ± 0.69 in April. Information on the location of the spawning areas is necessary for a correct management of species. The present study provides the first histological evidence of reproductive activity in Mexican waters, and indicates a wider spawning area, beyond just the northern zone, potentially encompassing the entire Gulf of Mexico.
Project description:Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) are distributed throughout the North Atlantic and are both economically valuable and heavily exploited. The fishery is currently managed as two spawning populations, with the GOM population being severely depleted for over 20 years. In April-August of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill released approximately 4 million barrels of oil into the GOM, with severe ecosystem and economic impacts. Acute oil exposure results in mortality of bluefin eggs and larvae, while chronic effects on spawning adults are less well understood. Here we used 16 years of electronic tagging data for 66 bluefin tuna to identify spawning events, to quantify habitat preferences, and to predict habitat use and oil exposure within Gulf of Mexico spawning grounds. More than 54,000?km2 (5%) of predicted spawning habitat within the US EEZ was oiled during the week of peak oil dispersal, with potentially lethal effects on eggs and larvae. Although the oil spill overlapped with a relatively small portion of predicted spawning habitat, the cumulative impact from oil, ocean warming and bycatch mortality on GOM spawning grounds may result in significant effects for a population that shows little evidence of rebuilding.
Project description:The Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, is a commercially important species that has been severely over-exploited in the recent past. Although the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock is now showing signs of recovery, its current status remains very uncertain and as a consequence their recovery is dependent upon severe management informed by rigorous scientific research. Monitoring of early life history stages can inform decision makers about the health of the species based upon recruitment and survival rates. Misidentification of fish larvae and eggs can lead to inaccurate estimates of stock biomass and productivity which can trigger demands for increased quotas and unsound management conclusions. Herein we used a molecular approach employing mitochondrial and nuclear genes (CO1 and ITS1, respectively) to identify larvae (n = 188) collected from three spawning areas in the Mediterranean Sea by different institutions working with a regional fisheries management organization. Several techniques were used to analyze the genetic sequences (sequence alignments using search algorithms, neighbour joining trees, and a genetic character-based identification key) and an extensive comparison of the results is presented. During this process various inaccuracies in related publications and online databases were uncovered. Our results reveal important differences in the accuracy of the taxonomic identifications carried out by different ichthyoplanktologists following morphology-based methods. While less than half of larvae provided were bluefin tuna, other dominant taxa were bullet tuna (Auxis rochei), albacore (Thunnus alalunga) and little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus). We advocate an expansion of expertise for a new generation of morphology-based taxonomists, increased dialogue between morphology-based and molecular taxonomists and increased scrutiny of public sequence databases.