Early Life History of Fishes

Course Information

OC 574 – FW 574/474
Instructors: Jessica Miller (FW), Lorenzo Ciannelli (OC)
Time and Location: Fall 2012, Kidder 274 and HMSC Ed 34
Credits: 4

  • Ecology, evolutionary biology, morphology, modeling, and sampling of fish early life stages
  • Recruitment dynamics, stock and environmental effects on survival of fish early life stages
  • Drift pathways, dispersal and connectivity
  • Hands on lab experience on taxonomy, aging techniques, population dynamics, dispersal modeling, and field sampling

Course Description

A greater scientific understanding of the mechanisms affecting fish population abundance and distribution is needed to develop sustainable management strategies of our renewable ocean resources. Both single-species (e.g., stock and recruitment models) and ecosystem-based (e.g., marine protected areas) management of fish populations rely on key assumptions regarding ecological traits of fish early life stages. The egg, larval, and early juvenile stages have been considered critical periods in the entire a fish’s life history. For example, the dispersal and survival of fishes during early life will determine their distribution and abundance during adult stages. Many fish species produce an enormous amount of eggs compared to terrestrial vertebrate species, however, only an infinitesimal percentage of these eggs survive to the adult stage. Hence, fishes face many challenges during their journey from the egg to the adult stage, and exhibit tremendous variability in the number of offspring that survive to reproduce.

The primary goal of this class is to present the challenges that fishes experience as they move from the egg stage through recruitment to the adult population. These include: egg and larval dispersal and transport, metamorphosis and settlement, size-selective and density-dependent mortality, feeding, growth, and predation., We will teach students how knowledge on fish ELH stages is generated using the scientific method, and discuss how such information is used in fisheries management and conservation. Concepts will be presented in the context of life history evolution and the development of traits that maximize overall fitness. Particular emphasis will be placed on understanding the factors affecting survival variability in relation to environmental variation and human activities. We will draw examples from selected case studies, which are representative of the range of life history characters of marine and diadromous fishes. The course will include lecture and laboratory sessions. Students will be introduced to the unique considerations of eggs, larvae, and juvenile fishes as well as conceptual and quantitative models associated with the role of early life history in population ecology and fisheries science. Students will participate in lectures, laboratory sessions, and be asked to critically analyze relevant peer-reviewed literature.

This class is directed to senior undergraduate and graduate students interested in fisheries ecology and management. Graduate students will develop a research proposal on some aspect of early life history. Undergraduates will prepare a briefing report that addresses how human activities and/or climate change can affect the early life history stages of a species or group of species of particular interest. Prerequisite: fish taxonomy, one year of undergraduate mathematics, general ecology, and marine biology. Familiarity with Excel is also desirable.

Learning Resources

Selected articles will be used, including selections from: Fishery Science: The Unique Contributions of Early Life History Stages. Edited by L. A. Fuiman & R. G. Werner (optional text)

The syllabus for the 2012 course can be found here:Syllabus

Pictures © Matt Wilson, NOAA, AFSC, Seattle, WA