Detecting population regulation of winter flounder from noisy data

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Year-class size of marine fish is thought to be determined during the first year of life, with density-dependent mortality occuring during the larval or juvenile stages. However, investigations of such dynamics are often limited by data availability. To test this paradigm for winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, the abundances of 29 year classes moving through seven life stages were analyzed with a novel extension of key-factor analysis. Evidence of density dependence was identified between the egg and July young-of-the-year stages and high process-error variance was detected throughout the life cycle, suggesting year-class size is not fully determined until age-2. However, the first summer appeared to be a critical life stage for winter flounder, during which high temperatures, hypoxia, and predator abundance contributed to increased mortality rates behind a long-term population decline. Due to its general data requirements, the key-factor analysis method developed here may be applied to other aquatic populations to identify the impacts of external stressors at particular life stages and the degree to which they are compensated by density-dependent processes.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences