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Energy allocation in juveniles of a warm-temperate reef fish


During the first year of life, organisms are faced with competing demands for energy between growth and storage. Most research on energy allocation in young fishes has focused on cold-temperate species which are subjected to strong seasonal fluctuations in productivity, while few studies have considered those at lower latitudes where seasonality is less pronounced. Gag (Mycteroperca microlepis) of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico settle in coastal seagrass beds in the spring as juveniles and emigrate to offshore reefs in the fall. Upon settlement, these young fish grow at remarkably fast rates, but their growth slows considerably before emigration. Slowed growth can be explained by one of three hypotheses: (1) size-specific emigration times; (2) reduced feeding efficiency associated with declines in primary and secondary productivity; or (3) energetic shifts in allocation from growth to storage. Gag emigrate essentially as a cohort, so slowed growth does not result from differential emigration patterns based on fish size. They also emigrate before seasonal declines in primary and secondary productivity; thus, food remains abundant and feeding efficiency constant. The more plausible hypothesis is that there is an energetic shift from growth to storage. The liver serves as the primary site of lipid storage and the hepatosomatic index of juvenile gag increases coincident with reduced growth. The overall effect of increased energy stores is presumably for use during offshore migration and/or for overwinter survival.

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