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A boundary current drives synchronous growth of marine fishes across tropical and temperate latitudes

Joyce Ong, Jessica Meeuwig | Feb 07, 2018

Joyce Ong, Jessica Meeuwig

Feb 07, 2018

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The analysis of rings in fish ear bones (otoliths) can yield insights into their patterns of growth.
Photo: NOAA/NMFS.

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CITATION

Ong JL, Rountrey AN, Black BA, Nguyen HM, Coulson PG, Newman SJ, Wakefield CB, Meeuwig JJ, Meekan MG. In press. A boundary current drives synchronous growth of marine fishes across tropical and temperate latitudes. Global Change Biology.

ABSTRACT

Entrainment of growth patterns of multiple species to single climatic drivers can lower ecosystem resilience and increase the risk of species extinction during stressful climatic events. However, predictions of the effects of climate change on the productivity and dynamics of marine fishes are hampered by a lack of historical data on growth patterns. We use otolith biochronologies to show that the strength of a boundary current, modulated by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, accounted for almost half of the shared variance in annual growth patterns of five of six species of tropical and temperate marine fishes across 23° of latitude (3000 km) in Western Australia. Stronger flow during La Niña years drove increased growth of five species, whereas weaker flow during El Niño years reduced growth. Our work is the first to link the growth patterns of multiple fishes with a single oceanographic/climate phenomenon at large spatial scales and across multiple climate zones, habitat types, trophic levels and depth ranges. Extreme La Niña and El Niño events are predicted to occur more frequently in the future and these are likely to have implications for these vulnerable ecosystems, such as a limited capacity of the marine taxa to recover from stressful climatic events.

FUNDING & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This work was funded by the Australian National Network in Marine Science.