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Feeding opportunities of larval and juvenile cod (Gadus morhua) in a Greenlandic fjord: temporal and spatial linkages between cod and their preferred prey

Swalethorp, Rasmus, Kjellerup, Sanne, Malanski, Evandro, Munk, Peter, Nielsen, Torkel Gissel
Marine biology 2014 v.161 no.12 pp. 2831-2846
Calanus, Gadus morhua, Metridia longa, cod (fish), diet, digestive system, fish feeding, nauplii, ontogeny, spatial variation, temporal variation, zooplankton
Feeding of fish depends on a spatial and temporal match with prey, and since larval and juvenile feeding can be highly selective, their preferences for given prey sizes and taxa should be considered when quantifying the actual availability of potential prey. We investigated the diet and prey preferences of the early-life stages of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) to quantify the availability of prey during a spring-summer season in a West Greenlandic fjord. We hypothesized that abundances of larval and juvenile cod at size were synchronized to optimal availability of preferred prey in space and time. The present analysis is based on nine cruises each covering 5 stations visited between 24 May and 5 August 2010 comparing zooplankton abundance, cod gut content and distribution patterns. Cod 4–25 mm in length preferred prey of about 5 % of their own length. During ontogeny, their preferences changed from calanoid nauplii towards Pseudocalanus spp. and Calanus spp. copepodites. The larvae/juvenile had an exceptionally high dietary contribution from cladocerans, which were highly preferred by cod larger than 9 mm, while the abundant Metridia longa and the non-calanoid copepods contributed less. These findings stress the importance of focusing on abundance of preferred prey when assessing the actual prey availability to young fish. We found a spatio-temporal overlap between cod and their preferred prey, and observations suggest that advection of both zooplankton and cod contributed to this overlap. Hence, the larval feeding opportunities might be sensitive to climate-related changes affecting the circulation patterns in this fjord.