Life history variation in capelin (Mallotus villosus) - a forage fish in the north Atlantic
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Capelin (Mallotus villosus) is the key forage fish in the north Atlantic. A short-term anomalous event in Newfoundland waters in the early 1990’s caused many changes to their biology, including excursions into alternate (subtidal) spawning habitats. Subtidal spawning sites have drastically different environmental conditions than the beach sites that they have been using since at least the 1940’s. This thesis examines various aspects of the reproductive biology of capelin to understand the mechanisms underlying the use of two environmentally divergent spawning habitats. Local adaptation in early life history stages was examined by raising artificially fertilized capelin eggs across three temperatures that capelin are likely to encounter at both spawning habitats. At cool to medium temperatures, larvae experienced higher hatching success, were larger at hatching and had more nutritional reserves relative to warm temperature conditions. There was no evidence of local adaptation, providing the first support for a facultative spawning strategy. The influence of global warming temperatures may be buffered through the utilization of either spawning habitat provided it is within this thermal optimum. A comparative analysis of adult body shape and condition between the two habitats provided further evidence that spawning habitat use in a given year is facultative. Patterns in fecundity drastically changed for capelin since it was last examined prior to the 1990’s. In addition to lower average population fecundity, a wide range of fecundities was also observed across all length-classes. I show that the strong relationship between length and fecundity in capelin has broken down in recent years, making easily collected size measurements an inappropriate proxy for the reproductive potential of this fish. Within-female variation in offspring size and developmental duration was higher when compared to among-female variation. This supports diversified bet-hedging in capelin, a strategy that would allow capelin to spawn in thermally available habitats without experiencing reproductive failure in exceedingly warm or cold years. It is likely that high variation in traits allow capelin to utilize alternate spawning habitats, ensuring that at least some larvae survive.