Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Physical environmental conditions, spawning and early-life stages of an estuarine fish: climate change implications for recruitment in intermittently open estuaries

Geoff Nicholson A D , Gregory P. Jenkins A B , John Sherwood C and Andy Longmore A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Marine and Freshwater Fisheries Research Institute, DPI Queenscliff Centre, PO Box 114, Queenscliff, Vic. 3225, Australia.

B Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Vic. 3010, Australia.

C Deakin University, Warrnambool Campus, Warrnambool, Vic. 3280, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 59(8) 735-749
Submitted: 23 October 2007  Accepted: 15 June 2008   Published: 22 August 2008


Significant variation in the egg and larval survival and juvenile recruitment of estuarine fishes has been linked to fluctuating environmental conditions. This present study compared the distribution and abundance of black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri) eggs and yolk-sac larvae between two microtidal estuaries of different flow regimes, where the riverine flow into the Glenelg estuary was around eight times the flow volume into the Hopkins estuary. Samples were collected monthly from September to November at sites along each estuary where vertical profiles of temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen (DO) were measured, and vertically stratified sampling of black bream eggs and yolk-sac larvae was conducted using a Schindler sampler. Salt wedge formation was apparent in both estuaries, with significant de-oxygenation of deeper, saline waters. Eggs occurred in a wide range of DO levels but yolk-sac larvae were less common at the lowest levels. Most eggs and yolk-sac larvae were collected in salinities greater than 10. Results suggested that egg mortality was higher in the Hopkins than the Glenelg estuary, which may be associated with the hypoxic conditions characteristic of low-flow conditions. The results have significant implications in terms of climate change that is predicted to lead to warmer, drier conditions in south-eastern Australia, potentially increasing stratification and subsequent hypoxic zones.

Additional keywords: black bream, climate change, eggs and larvae, estuarine flow, hypoxia, salinity.


We wish to acknowledge the funding made available by the Glenelg–Hopkins Catchment Management Authority to carry out this study, as Glenelg-Hopkins Catchment Management Authority Project 4.2. We also wish to acknowledge the assistance and advice rendered by Wayne Clay, Brett Abbott, Laurie Laurenson and Colin Magilton. The advice from the anonymous referees and journal editor in reviewing the first manuscript was appreciated. Within the umbrella of the Fisheries Research Branch, we were authorised under the Fisheries Act 1995 (Parliament of Victoria, Australia) to collect samples without permit.


Attrill, M. J. , and Power, M. (2002). Climatic influence on a marine fish assemblage. Nature 417, 275–278.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Breitburg, D. L. , Adamack, A. , Rose, K. A. , Kolesar, S. E. , and Decker, M. B. , et al. (2003). The pattern and influence of low dissolved oxygen in the Patuxent River, a seasonally hypoxic estuary. Estuaries 26, 280–297.

Cameron, P. , Berg, J. , Dethlefsen, V. , and Von Westernhagen, H. (1992). Developmental defects in pelagic embryos of several flatfish species in the southern North Sea. Netherlands Journal of Sea Research 29, 239–256.
CrossRef |

CSIRO (2007). South-eastern Australia Climate Initiative. January–June 2007 milestone report. Revised December 2007. (Eds C. Macaulay, P. Holper, B. Bates, F. Chiew, I. Smith, H. Hendon and B. Timbal.) CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Melbourne.

Doherty, P. , and Fowler, T. (1994). An empirical test of recruitment limitation in a coral reef fish. Science 263, 935–939.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Gomon M. F., Glover J. C. M., and Kuiter R. H. (1994). ‘The Fishes of Australia’s South Coast.’ (State Print: Adelaide.)

Gunasekera, R. , and De Silva, S. (2000). The amino acid profiles of estuary perch, Macquaria colonorum, during early development at different salinities. Aquatic Living Resources 13, 153–162.
CrossRef |

Haddy, J. A. , and Pankhurst, N. W. (1998). Annual change in reproductive condition and plasma concentrations of sex steroids in black bream, Acanthopagrus butcheri (Munro) (Sparidae). Marine and Freshwater Research 49, 389–397.
CrossRef |

Haddy, J. A. , and Pankhurst, N. W. (2000). The effects of salinity on reproductive development, plasma steroid levels, fertilisation and egg survival in black bream Acanthopagrus butcheri. Aquaculture 188, 115–131.
CrossRef |

Hadwen, W. L. , Russell, G. L. , and Arthington, A. H. (2007). Gut content and stable isotope-derived diets of four commercially and recreationally important fish species in two intermittently open estuaries. Marine and Freshwater Research 58, 363–375.
CrossRef |

Harty C. (2000). Draft South West Estuaries Coastal Action Plan. Coastal and Marine Planning Program, prepared for the Western Coastal Board, Geelong.

Hassell, K. L. , Coutin, P. C. , and Nugegoda, D. (2008a). Hypoxia impairs embryo development and survival in black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri). Marine Pollution Bulletin 57, 302–306.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Hassell, K. L. , Coutin, P. C. , and Nugegoda, D. (2008b). Hypoxia, low salinity and lowered temperature reduce embryo survival and hatch rates in black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri, Munro). Journal of Fish Biology 72, 1623–1636.
CrossRef |

Houde, E. D. (1987). Fish early life dynamics and recruitment variability. American Fisheries Society Symposium 2, 17–29.

James, N. C. , Whitfield, A. K. , and Crowley, P. D. (2008). Long-term stability of the fish assemblages in a warm-temperature South African estuary. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 76, 723–738.
CrossRef |

Jenkins, G. P. (2005). The influence of climate on the fishery recruitment of a temperate, seagrass associated fish, the King George whiting, Sillaginodes punctata. Marine Ecology Progress Series 288, 263–271.
CrossRef |

Jenkins, G. P. , and King, D. (2006). Variation in larval growth can predict the recruitment of a temperate, seagrass-associated fish. Oecologia 147, 641–649.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Jenkins G. I., Frankish K. R., and Partridge G. J. (1999). Manual for the hatchery production of black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri). Aquaculture Development Unit, Information Series 1999/1. Fremantle Maritime Centre, Perth.

Kailola P. J., Williams M. J., Stewart P. C., Reichelt R. E., McNee A., and Grieve C. (1993). ‘Australian Fisheries Resources.’ (Bureau of Resources Sciences and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation: Canberra.)

Kimmerer, W. J. , Cowan, J. H. , Miller, L. W. , and Rose, K. A. (2001). Analysis of an estuarine striped bass population: effects of environmental conditions during early life. Estuaries 24, 557–575.
CrossRef |

Kurup, G. R. , and Hamilton, D. P. (2002). Flushing of dense hypoxic water from a cavity of the Swan River estuary, Western Australia. Estuaries 25, 908–915.

Kurup, G. R. , Hamilton, D. P. , and Patterson, J. C. (1998). Modelling the effect of seasonal flow variations on the position of salt wedge in a micro-tidal estuary. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 47, 191–208.
CrossRef |

Llewellyn L. C., and MacDonald M. C. (1980). Family Percichthyidae. Australian freshwater basses and cods. In ‘Freshwater Fishes of South-Eastern Australia’. (Ed. R. M. McDowall.) pp. 155–158. (Reed: Sydney.)

Meynecke, J. , Lee, S. H. , Duke, N. C. , and Warnken, J. (2006). Effect of rainfall as a component of climate change on estuarine fish production in Queensland, Australia. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 69, 491–504.
CrossRef |

Miller, D. C. , Poucher, S. L. , and Coiro, L. (2002). Determination of lethal dissolved oxygen levels for selected marine and estuarine fishes, crustaceans, and a bivalve. Marine Biology 140, 287–296.
CrossRef |

Morison, A. K. , Coutin, P. C. , and Robertson, S. G. (1998). Age determination of black bream, Acanthopagrus butcheri (Sparidae), from the Gippsland Lakes of south-eastern Australia indicates slow growth and episodic recruitment. Marine and Freshwater Research 49, 491–498.
CrossRef |

Morrissy, N. M. (1979). Inland (non-estuarine) halocline formation in a Western Australian river. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 30, 343–353.
CrossRef |

Neira F. J., Miskiewicz A. G., and Trnski T. (1998). ‘Larvae of Temperate Australian Fishes: Laboratory Guide for Larval Fish Identification.’ (University of Western Australia Press: Perth.)

Newton, G. M. (1996). Estuarine ichthyoplankton ecology in relation to hydrology and zooplankton dynamics in a salt-wedge estuary. Marine and Freshwater Research 47, 99–111.
CrossRef |

North, E. W. , and Houde, E. D. (2001). Retention of white perch and striped bass larvae: biological-physical interactions in Chesapeake Bay estuarine turbidity maximum. Estuaries 24, 756–769.
CrossRef |

North, E. W. , and Houde, E. D. (2003). Linking ETM physics, zooplankton prey, and fish early-life histories to striped bass Morone saxatilis and white perch M. americana recruitment. Marine Ecology Progress Series 260, 219–236.
CrossRef |

Potter, I. C. , Hyndes, G. A. , and Baronie, F. M. (1993). The fish fauna of a seasonally closed Australian estuary. Is the prevalence of estuarine-spawning species high? Marine Biology 116, 19–30.
CrossRef |

Quinn G. P., and Keough M. J. (2002). ‘Experimental Design and Data Analysis for Biologists.’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

Rutherford, E. S. , Houde, E. D. , and Nyman, R. M. (1997). Relationship of larval-stage growth and mortality to recruitment of striped bass, Morone saxatilis, in Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries 20, 174–198.
CrossRef |

Sarre, G. A. , and Potter, I. C. (1999). Comparisons between the reproductive biology of black bream Acanthopagrus butcheri (Teleostei: Sparidae) in four estuaries with widely differing characteristics. International Journal of Salt Lake Research 8, 179–210.

Schindler, D. W. (1969). Two useful devices for vertical plankton and water sampling. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 26, 1948–1955.

Secor, D. H. , and Houde, E. D. (1995). Temperature effects on the timing of striped bass egg production, larval viability, and recruitment potential in the Patuxent River (Chesapeake Bay). Estuaries 18, 527–544.
CrossRef |

Sherwood J., and Backhouse G. (1982). Hydrodynamics of salt-wedge estuaries – implications for successful spawning in black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri). Faculty of Applied Science and Technology, WIAE Research Report 82–3, Sept. 1982. Deakin University, Warrnambool.

Sherwood J., Magilton C., and Rouse A. (1998). The Glenelg River: nutrients and estuarine dynamics. A report to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Deakin University, Warrnambool.

Shoji, J. , and Tanaka, M. (2007). Growth and mortality of larval and juvenile Japanese sea perch Lateolabrax japonicus in relation to seasonal changes in temperature and prey abundance in the Chikugo estuary. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 73, 423–430.
CrossRef |

Sissenwine M. P. (1984). Why do fish populations vary? In ‘Exploitation of Marine Communities’. (Ed. R. M. May.) pp. 59–94. (Springer Verlag: New York.)

Victorian Water Resources Data Warehouse (2008). Available online at [Verified July 2008].

Vinagre, C. , Costa, M. J. , and Cabral, H. N. (2007). Impact of climate and hydrodynamics on sole larval immigration towards the Tagus estuary, Portugal. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 75, 516–524.
CrossRef |

Walker, S. , and Neira, F. J. (2001). Aspects of the reproductive biology and early life history of black bream, Acanthopagrus butcheri (Sparidae), in a brackish lagoon system in south-eastern Australia. Aqua – Journal of Ichthyology & Aquatic Biology 4, 135–142.

Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (21)