Variation in pelagic larval growth of Atlantic billfishes: The role of prey composition and selective mortality

Su Sponaugle, Kristen D. Walter, Kelly L. Denit, Joel K. Llopiz, Robert K. Cowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Atlantic blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) and sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) larvae were collected from 10 monthly cruises (June-October 2003 and 2004) across the Straits of Florida to test (1) whether growth differed between the more productive western region near the Florida shelf, and the less productive eastern region toward the Bahamas, and (2) whether growth was related to prey consumption. Examination of larval sagittal otoliths revealed that instantaneous growth and daily growth during the first 2-3 weeks of life did not vary significantly between the two regions for either species. However, recent growth during the last two full days prior to collection was greater in the west for blue marlin larvae. Recent growth of blue marlin larvae <9 mm SL (primarily zooplanktivorous) was significantly related to prey composition (faster growth when higher proportions of Farranula copepods were consumed). Western larvae grew faster and had higher proportions of Farranula in their guts. Trends for sailfish larvae were not significant. In both species, comparison of early growth between <9 and ≥9 mm SL size groups indicated that growth trajectories diverged around 5-8 mm SL, the time when billfish larvae become capable of piscivory. Significantly faster growth of larger (older) larvae suggests that mortality was selective for fast growers and that the transition to piscivory may be a critical point in the early life of billfish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)839-849
Number of pages11
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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