The reproductive potential of female fishes, which results from the number of eggs they produce and the quality of individual eggs, is a critical factor in fisheries biology. Reproductive potential is important to individuals because maternal fitness is the product of the number of offspring produced and how many offspring survive. The growth rate of populations and their capacity for supporting commercial fisheries also depend on the number of viable offspring that females produce. I studied the reproductive potential of female Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) in the North Pacific Ocean. Pacific cod is an important ecological and economic resource, yet much of its reproductive biology remains unexplored. I used several different approaches to investigate whether egg number or egg size are more important in determining reproductive potential, and to evaluate factors that influence reproduction. An analysis of life history variation among Pacific cod in Canada and Alaska demonstrated that despite differences in life history strategies, females from different populations had similar lifetime reproductive success (a proxy for individual fitness). I also collected Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska, eastern Bering Sea, and western Aleutian Islands from 2002 to 2005. Biochemical analyses of Pacific cod eggs revealed that Pacific cod produce low-energy eggs that are adapted for rapid development on the seafloor. Larger females produce eggs with less arachidonic acid (a fatty acid that has been linked to egg quality) than smaller females, suggesting that they may sacrifice egg quality to maintain fecundity. Determination of fecundity and egg size in 590 females from different areas and years revealed that maternal length and weight are excellent predictors of fecundity, but that variability in egg size is not related to the age or size of females, The greatest difference in reproductive potential among years and areas was reduced egg size in the eastern Bering Sea in 2003, which may have been due to changes in ocean temperature or prey availability that impacted the ability of females to store energy. These results suggest that female Pacific cod maximize their fitness through increased egg production, not egg quality, and that their reproductive success is under strong environmental control.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2007
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