Long-Term Trends in Migration Timing Based on Thermal Response of a Temperate Forage Fish

Laura J Nazzaro1, John Manderson2, Josh T Kohut1 and Amelia Snow3, (1)Rutgers University, Marine and Coastal Sciences, New Brunswick, NJ, United States, (2)NOAA NMFS, (3)Rutgers Univ, New Brunswick, NJ, United States
The physiology of many marine animals is tightly coupled to their surrounding fluid environment. Several habitat features, most notably temperature, determine these animals’ fitness by affecting their growth, survival, and reproductive success. In temperate regions, many species are mobile and able to track the specific temperatures encompassed by their thermal niches as the regional temperature distribution changes. Butterfish (Peprilus triacanthus), which demonstrate very strong seasonal and temperature-dependent migration patterns in the Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB), a region exhibiting some of the highest seasonal and interannual temperature variability in the world, is an excellent example of this phenomenon. We developed a thermal niche model for butterfish based on the statistical relationship between catches and measured temperatures from spring and fall NMFS and NEAMAP surveys and several state inshore surveys, and fit parameters to the Boltzmann-Arrhenius function, a simple yet explanatory model of temperature dependence, so that the resulting curve closely matched the statistical relationship. This thermal relationship was coupled to over 30 years of daily shallow-water OI SST (optimal interpolation sea surface temperature) measured by satellite and various in situ platforms, and daily bottom temperatures estimated by a hydrodynamic hindcast ROMS (Regional Ocean Modeling System) model to examine long-term trends in thermal migration triggers into shallow inshore waters in the spring, and out of them to deep offshore wintering habitat in the fall. In many parts of the MAB, the “thermal fall” migration trigger was delayed during later decades of the time series compared to earlier decades. This suggests potential changes in butterfish productivity and life history stages, as well as potential changes in NMFS survey bias, as the ships are unable to tow in shallow waters and will catch most butterfish in deeper waters after the variable migration trigger.