Spatial and temporal dynamics of a Nassau grouper fish spawning aggregation located on an isolated seamount in Puerto Rico
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Spatial and temporal dynamics of a Nassau grouper fish spawning aggregation located on an isolated seamount in Puerto Rico

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  • Journal Title:
    Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
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    The Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus, is a slow‐growing, late‐maturing, long‐lived reef fish widely distributed throughout the south‐western North Atlantic. Known for forming large spawning aggregations, numbering tens of thousands, they are now listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Recently, the only Nassau grouper spawning aggregation in Puerto Rico was documented at Bajo de Sico, a seamount and seasonally closed marine protected area. Studies elsewhere on the spatio‐temporal dynamics of Nassau grouper aggregations have documented how, and how far, fish move from home sites to the spawning site, and have shown the tight link between aggregation formation and the lunar cycle. However, these studies have not evaluated the potential impacts of the reduced spatial extent represented by a seamount, nor have they addressed the impacts of local seasonal protection relative to the size of the closed area and the timing of aggregation formation. Acoustic telemetry was used to quantify the spatio‐temporal dynamics of Nassau grouper spawning aggregation formation at Bajo de Sico. Twenty‐six individuals were tagged and tracked over three consecutive spawning seasons. Nassau grouper formed three or four aggregations per season, corresponding to the lunar cycles from January to April. Individuals displayed high visitation rates to the aggregation site: 98% visited at least two peaks per season; 80% visited multiple seasons. The timing of arrival, departure, and residency at the site were significantly different among individuals and lunar months, indicating significant variability in aggregation formation. Nassau grouper occupied a relatively small staging area (2.7 km2) and courtship arena (0.67 km2) compared with aggregations occurring on continental/insular platforms or large atolls; movements off the seamount may occur but were not detected. Results indicate the current seasonal closure inadequately protects the spawning population on Bajo de Sico and should be extended to the end of June.
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    Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 33(10), 1116-1130
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