Evaluation of the demersal fish assemblages of the northeastern levant sea
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Ecosystem-level changes have taken place in the Mediterranean Sea over the last decades due to both anthropogenic interferences and natural perturbations. Compared to the western Mediterranean Sea, influences of these factors especially on flora and fauna characteristics are much more dramatic and intense in the eastern part, particularly in the northeastern Levant Sea where the study area is located. In this study, life history traits of some core species (both native and immigrant) occupying the continental shelf of the northeastern Levant Sea were studied in this changing ecosystem to improve limited ecological understanding of the demersal fish assemblages of the northeastern Levant Sea. For this purpose, the annual patterns in allocation and utilization of energy in demersal fish species, temporal and bathymetrical trends in fish distribution with respect to biological requirements of the species and strategies adapted by the species in growth, reproduction and energy storage were investigated by examining growth parameters, biological indices and abundance and biomass variations. Influences of environmental variables on spatiotemporal distribution and biological characteristic of Mullus barbatus were also explored by generalized additive models. Biological data were collected at monthly intervals between May 2007 and May 2010 by trawl sampling while sample collection of environmental variables (temperature and salinity) was performed from December 2008 to May 2010. Results of this study reveal that the components of the demersal fish assemblage in the region fulfill their biological activities within a short period of time when the highest productivity is reached in the area. Moreover, results indicate that within this short period of time, some native components of the demersal fish assemblages studied (Mullus barbatus and Pagellus erythrinus) exhibit strategies such as fast growth, early maturation, short reproduction season, secondary spawners to cope with the environmental peculiarities. On the other hand, the successful exotic colonizers develop strategies as well but these successful immigrants also use time (Lagocephalus suezensis) and space (depth) (Upeneus pori) slot that the native species avoid. In some of the species examined (Mullus barbatus and Lagocephalus suezensis), growth is fast, sexual maturity is early, reproduction period is short, and reproduction potential is high. With the peculiar environmental condition, these life history traits are attributed to the “r-strategy” of the species. In this study, generalized additive models of Mullus barbatus explain 81.5 % variations in Gonadosomatic Index (GSI), 55.2 % in Hepatosomatic Index (HSI) and 43.9 % in Condition Factor (K). The time component in the GAM model captures the same cyclic pattern observed in GSI of Mullus barbatus. Besides, The GAM results suggest that the highest GSI values associated with the bottom water temperature are between 18 – 19 °C while the partial effect of bottom salinity is at 38.7 psu. A positive effect of depth on GSI of the species starts after 60 meters depth and increasing trend continues until 125 meters depth and then decreases. The HSI results are almost identical to GSI outputs indicating that the effects of the parameters concerned act in a similar manner. The results of the GAM models failed to explain influence of environmental parameters on vertical and seasonal distribution of adult Mullus barbatus. However 83.5 % variances were explained in distribution of juveniles. The salinity and temperature have the highest impact on the distribution of juveniles among the parameters evaluated. The results indicate that the occurrence of Atlantic Water in the area has a positive influence on M. barbatus, particularly on the recruits through either by its low salinity or by another factor associated with this water mass. The vertical distribution range are set by the high temperatures (>27 °C) at the shallow depths during summer and the low temperatures on the shelf break zone (<16 °C). A comparison of vertical abundance distribution of Mullus barbatus and the vertical temperature variations indicate that the species may tolerate up to 27 °C and then individuals move to the deeper depths so that to the cooler waters when the temperature exceeds their tolerance limit. As well as the life history traits adopted by the species, there are some other factors providing advantages to the species. The fisheries regulations, particularly the time limits applied in the area are in favor of the species especially of pre-recruits. In the study area the pre-recruitment phase and summer YOY aggregations in shallow waters of most species studied in this thesis take place during a time when the fishing season is closed.