Postflexion larvae and juvenile daily growth patterns of the Alborán Sea sardine (Sardina pilchardus Walb.): influence of wind
Keywords:Sardina pilchardus, daily growth, wind stress, recruitment, Alborán Sea
The Alborán Sea is a hydrographically complex and variable area in which wind-driven coastal upwelling occurs. Its most abundant small pelagic resource is the sardine (Sardina pilchardus), which is subject to major interannual oscillations. Postflexion stages of sardine larvae were sampled in their main nursery grounds in the north Alborán Sea, and sardine juveniles were sampled periodically throughout the recruitment season. Daily growth analysis was used to identify periods favourable for larval survival and to assess the evolution of daily increment widths during the first months of life. The results showed that juveniles born later in the spawning season grew relatively faster than those born earlier. Two main growth phases were observed in juveniles: an initial one in which daily increment widths increased progressively, and a second one in which widths fluctuated, showing a decreasing trend. The beginning of the second phase was almost synchronous among different sub-cohorts, suggesting that it was triggered by environmental factors. The estimated mean daily growth rates during the larval phase were higher in surviving juveniles than in postflexion larvae born in the same month, supporting the “bigger is better” hypothesis in relation to larval survival. The influence of the environmental regime on growth was explored, and the evolution of a growth-related index, derived from otolith increment width variability, was compared with a single environmental descriptor, a “wind index” based on wind stress and direction. This analysis suggested that larval survival and larval and juvenile growth rates showed a positive correlation with NW component winds, associated with upwelling events on the continental shelf and calm sea weather conditions in the inshore nursery grounds. Conversely, Levantine and southern wind periods, which interrupt the upwelling and create rough seas in the inshore bays, lead to a decrease in growth rates in juveniles and low larval survival.
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