Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Robert J. Latour


Coastal fishes of the western North Atlantic, such as sciaenids and their competitors, support substantial commercial and recreational fisheries in waters that may vary widely in temperature, salinity, light intensity and spectral distrubution, and dissolved oxygen levels, yet their ecophysiological abilities to cope with such variability have received little attention. I therefore applied multidisciplinary comparative techniques to investigate aspects of the sensory and energetic ecophysiology of several sciaenid fishes and non-sciaenid competitors common in the western North Atlantic. Auditory brainstem response experiments demonstrated that sciaenid fishes have greatest auditory sensitivity at low frequencies that match their vocalizations. Based upon both anatomy and auditory bandwidths, most sciaenids appear to be hearing generalists that are likely sensitive to the particle motion components of aquatic sounds. Electroretinographic experiments revealed that the luminous sensitivities, temporal properties, and chromatic characteristics of the visual systems of phylogenetically-similar sciaenid fishes from different microhabitats, and those of phylogenetically-dissimilar piscivores from similar microhabitats, all correlated with lifestyle and ecology. The eyes of benthic and nocturnal fishes were typified by high luminous sensitivity, slow temporal resolution, and relative diel-invariance, consistent with foraging in dim photoclimates. By contrast, the eyes of pelagic diurnal piscivores had comparatively lower luminous sensitivity, higher temporal resolution, and exhibited higher diel variation, consistent with specific diurnal light niches. Accordingly, visually-foraging diurnal piscivores may be disadvantaged in eutrophied, turbid waters characteristic of many modern estuaries. Intermittent-flow respirometry experiments revealed that the majority of sciaenid fishes had resting and active metabolic rates similar to those of most teleost fishes but significantly lower than high-demand species such as tunas. However, the metabolic rates of kingfishes (Menticirrhus sp.) were significantly higher than other sciaenids, but significantly lower than those of tunalike fishes. Estimates of standard metabolic rate from power performance curves fitted to active metabolic rate data did not differ significantly from experimentally-derived measurements in static chambers, validating the experimental approach. Data from these chapters were analyzed with linear repeated measures and nonlinear mixed effects models that considered repeated measurement of subjects, modeled within-individual correlations, and the included random factors that improved the scope of inference. Although not novel approaches, these methods demonstrate quantitative advancements for future analyses of physiological data comprised of multiple measurements taken from individual experimental subjects. Collectively, the results of this dissertation underscore the potential power and utility of physiological techniques to provide a wide variety of information that may complement more traditional techniques used in fisheries science, particularly when coupled with appropriate analytical strategies. Sciaenid fishes are model organisms for investigations of the links between form, function, and the environment in coastal ecosystems.



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