Multiyear ichthyoplankton surveys used to monitor larval fish seasonality, abundance, and assemblage structure can provide early indicators of regional ecosystem changes. Numerous ichthyoplankton surveys have been conducted in the northern Gulf of Mexico, but few have had high levels of temporal resolution and sample replication. In this study, ichthyoplankton samples were collected monthly (October 2004–October 2006) at a single station off the coast of Alabama as part of a long-term biological survey. Four seasonal periods were identified from observed and historic water temperatures, including a relatively long (June–October) “summer” period (water temperature >26°C). Fish egg abundance, total larval abundance, and larval taxonomic diversity were significantly related to water temperature (but not salinity), with peaks in the spring, spring–summer, and summer periods, respectively. Larvae collected during the survey represented 58 different families, of which engraulids, sciaenids, carangids, and clupeids were the most prominent. The most abundant taxa collected were unidentified engraulids (50%), sand seatrout (Cynoscion arenarius, 7.5%), Atlantic bumper (Chloroscombrus chrysurus, 5.4%), Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus, 4.4%), Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus, 3.8%), and unidentified gobiids (3.6%). Larval concentrations for dominant taxa were highly variable between years, but the timing of seasonal occurrence for these taxa was relatively consistent. Documented increases in sea surface temperature on the Alabama shelf may have various implications for larval fish dynamics, as indicated by the presence of tropical larval forms (e.g., fistularids, labrids, scarids, and acanthurids) in our ichthyoplankton collections and in recent juvenile surveys of Alabama and northern Gulf of Mexico seagrass habitats.
Marine and Environmental Sciences
Recommended Publisher Citation: Hernandez, F. J., Powers, S. P., & Graham, W. M. (2010). Seasonal variability in ichthyoplankton abundance and assemblage composition in the northern Gulf of Mexico off Alabama.