Effects of salinity gradients on larval growth and otolith asymmetry of austral hake Merluccius australis
Abstract Austral hake Merluccius australis sustain an important demersal fishery in South Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The main spawning and nursery areas are in the Chilean Patagonia, which is characterized by large inputs of freshwater from rivers and ice melting. The spatial distribution of larval austral hake M. australis was studied during spring, and the potential effects of oceanographic conditions (temperature, salinity, vertical stability and turbidity) on early life traits, derived from sagitta otolith microstructure analysis, size-at-age (SAR), individual larval growth (IGR) and bilateral asymmetry (FA6). Larval abundance ranged between 0.86 and 41.55 ind 1000 m-3 (median: 4.08 ind 1000 m-3) and population larval growth estimated by micro-increment counts of sagitta otoliths was 0.129 ± 0.010 mm d-1, with age varying from 4 to 24 days old. All three indicators derived from otolith analysis (SAR, IGR, and FA6) showed positive and significant correlations with vertical salinity gradients; IGR and FA6 were also positively correlated to Brunt-Väisälä frequency (vertical stability) and FA6 was correlated to turbidity. Therefore, larval M. australis were larger-at-age, grew faster and showed more asymmetry in areas with more influence of freshwater runoff in south Pacific Patagonia.