Cause, consequence, and prevalence of spatial structure of white perch (Morone americana) populations in the Chesapeake Bay
Kerr, Lisa A.
Secor, David H.
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Partial migration defines the simultaneous occurrence of migratory and resident groups within populations. Using otolith chemistry (strontium:calcium measures), I documented partial migration for an estuarine-dependent white perch (<em>Morone americana<em/>) population in the Patuxent River estuary (Chesapeake Bay, MD). Previous research indicated that as juveniles, a portion of the population remained resident in freshwater natal habitats and another portion dispersed down-estuary into brackish water habitats. I established these behaviors are alternative life history tactics that persist over the lifetime of individuals. Through back-calculation of hatch-dates, juvenile contingents were associated with their respective larval cohorts, indicating that spatial structuring was influenced by time of spawning, and temperature and prey conditions experienced during early life history. Dispersive individuals originated primarily from earlier spawned larval cohorts, characterized by slower growth and higher mortality rates compared to later spawned cohorts, which contributed disproportionately to the resident contingent. Laboratory experiments revealed that partial migration was associated with varying energetic tactics, with dispersive contingent fish exhibiting higher consumption and faster growth rates subsequent to migration. The prevalence of contingent behavior within other white perch populations in Chesapeake Bay was explored using otolith stable isotope (δ<sup>18<sup/>O) values, which had a positive relationship with salinity and together with otolith δ<sup>13<sup/>C serve as a proxy for regional habitats distributed along an estuarine salinity gradient. Resident contingent fish dominated Upper Bay and Potomac River populations, whereas the dispersive contingent dominated within the Choptank, Nanticoke, James, and York Rivers. The consequences of spatial structuring to productivity (spawning stock biomass), stability (variance in spawning stock biomass), and resilience (years to rebuild the population) of white perch populations were examined using an age-structured simulation model. Increased representation of migratory fish resulted in increased population productivity and resilience, whereas presence of the resident contingent within the population contributed to stability. Increased population stability and productivity also occurred when the abundance of the two contingents varied inversely to one another over time (i.e., asynchronous dynamics). The different roles contingents play in mediating population dynamics and long-term persistence highlights the importance of managing for conservation of spatial structure within fish populations.