Comparative ecology and interspecific competition between the sympatric congeners Sebastes caurinus (copper rockfish) and S. maliger (quillback rockfish)

Date

2018-06-29

Authors

Murie, D. J.

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Abstract

Comparative ecology and interspecific competition were examined between two sympatric congeners, Sebastes caurinus Richardson 1845 (copper rockfish) and S. maliger (Jordan and Gilbert 1880) (quillback rockfish) in Saanich Inlet, British Columbia, Canada, from 1986-1990. Ecological profiles were constructed through analyses of depth distribution, habitat and species associations, activities, feeding habits, gut allometry, growth, and reproduction. Interspecific competition between copper and quillback rockfish was examined by experimentally manipulating the densities of one or the other species on rocky reefs in Saanich Inlet where they were sympatric. The Pisces IV submersible was used to survey the distribution of rockfish in relatively deep-water (21-140 m) in Saanich Inlet. Copper and quillback rockfish were sympatric in water depths of 21-65 m. They occurred in association with one another the majority of the time (>90%) and their densities were greatest over areas of complex substrate. Size of copper and quillback rockfish was positively correlated with increased depth, primarily due to the absence of small fish in deeper waters. Both species were observed most frequently perched on open substrate or hovering in the water column. Copper rockfish were observed swimming more frequently than quillback rockfish. Copper and quillback rockfish primarily consumed demersal crustaceans throughout the year. Copper rockfish consumed a greater proportion of pelagic fishes than quillback rockfish, whereas quillback rockfish had a greater proportion of pelagic crustaceans in their diet. Levins' (1968) measure of niche breadth of the diet (by mass), as standardized by Hurlbert (1978), was narrow (0.19-0.20) to moderate (0.32-0.51) for quillback and copper rockfish respectively, during spring, summer, and fall. In the winter it was extremely narrow (0.02) for both species due to their feeding predominantly on one prey type, juvenile herring (Clupea harengus) . The Simplified Morisita Index of niche overlap (Horn 1966) in feeding habits (by mass) was relatively high (>0.55) throughout the year, and particularly during the winter (0.99). This high niche overlap in the winter occurred when large schools of juvenile herring were available in the environment and were probably not a limited resource. Extensive niche overlap between copper and quillback rockfish may therefore indicate an abundance of a shared resource rather than competition for the resource. Copper and quillback rockfish consumed the greatest quantity of food during the winter when feeding on juvenile herring, although quillback rockfish consumed significantly less food mass than copper rockfish in the winter. A greater proportion of quillback rockfish were collected with food in their stomachs during the spring and summer, when the numerically dominant food items were pelagic crustaceans. The importance of fish prey in the diets of both copper and quillback rockfish increased with size. Copper rockfish had a shorter intestine and larger stomach relative to similar-sized quillback rockfish. This suggested that the gastrointestinal tract of copper rockfish was better suited to holding and digesting fish and larger crustaceans than quillback rockfish, an observation consistent with differences in their feeding habits. Copper and quillback rockfish had similar growth patterns with no readily identifiable species-specific and sex-specific differences. Both sexes of both species attained asymptotic lengths of 30-31 cm total length and had similar growth coefficients (0.141-0.187). Within each sex, copper rockfish had a smaller increase in mass per unit of body length than quillback rockfish, indicative of a more pelagic lifestyle for copper rockfish. Estimated lengths at first and 100% sexual maturity for female and male copper and quillback rockfish were similar. Male copper rockfish were ripe, and potentially inseminated females, in January and February. Female copper rockfish were found to be carrying fertilized eggs in April and May, and gave birth to their young primarily in June. The reproductive cycle of quillback rockfish preceded that of copper rockfish by approximately one month, with parturition for quillback rockfish occurring mainly in May. The fecundity of copper and quillback rockfish was similar, with a 30-cm fish giving birth to approximately 90,000 young. Visceral fat cycles of mature female copper and quillback rockfish were complementary to their cycles of gonad maturation and increases in gonad size, indicating that they use visceral fat stores as a source of energy for maturation of their eggs and nourishment of their developing young. Visceral fat cycles of mature males were mainly coincident with the maturation and size increase of their gonads, indicating that they did not use visceral fat reserves in the maturation of their gonads. Male rockfish secondarily may have used their fat reserves as an energy source during the period when they were ripe, perhaps for mating activities. Visceral fat accumulation and dissipation in immature males and females appeared to be primarily related to periods of feeding. Interspecific competition between copper and quillback rockfish was asymmetrical, seasonal, and transitory, based on experimental manipulations of the densities of the congeners in natural populations. Copper rockfish did not have a competitive effect on quillback rockfish, but quillback rockfish had a weak competitive effect on copper rockfish. This effect was apparent only during the fall, was strongest in the fall immediately following the density manipulations, and appeared to weaken in the subsequent fall season. The seasonal competitive effect may have been caused by copper rockfish moving onto the study reefs (18-31 m depth) from shallower waters (<20 m) during the fall and winter, creating a short-term 'ecological crunch' in which food or space resources were limited. Overall, comparative ecological profiles of copper and quillback rockfish exhibited a large degree of overlap. Differences observed between them were small but consistently indicated that copper rockfish had a more pelagic lifestyle than quillback rockfish. The otherwise high degree of similarity between the two congeners, however, did not translate into sustained interspecific competition. Ecological theory purporting a major role for interspecific competition in structuring fish communities was therefore not supported by experimental manipulations of population densities of deep-subtidal, temperate zone rockfishes. The asymmetrical, seasonal, and transitory occurrence of weak interspecific competition demonstrated that competition between these rockfish species is dynamic, and cannot account for the pattern of species association. Alternative hypotheses based on the importance of intraspecific competition, predation, or environmental variability must therefore be considered.

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Keywords

Striped bass, ecology, British Columbia, Saanich Inlet

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