Geographic variation in density, demography, and life history traits of a harvested temperate sex-changing reef fish
Geographic variation in ecological and environmental factors may lead to intraspecific differences among populations. For the California sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher), an important predator in kelp forests and a target of commercial and recreational fisheries, we evaluated the degree to which different populations exhibited variation in density, demography, and life history traits. We assessed biogeographic patterns of abundance through underwater visual census at 39 sites spanning a major portion of the species range (southern California, USA, to Baja California, Mexico) and made collections from seven focal sites to investigate geographic differences in demography and life histories. California sheephead densities were significantly greater in the southern part of their range and at offshore islands than along the mainland coast. At the focal sites, we found significant spatial variation in density, fecundity, size structure, growth rates, annual survivorship, and the timing of maturation and sex change. Density- and temperature-dependent effects helped to explain the intraspecific differences in these parameters. Studies such as this one will allow for demographic plasticity to be incorporated into future stock assessments. Management of temperate reef fishes may best be achieved on smaller spatial scales as we increase our understanding of geographic variation among populations.