Intraspecific competition among early life stages and the optimal spawning strategy of red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)
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This collection of studies was designed to understand the mechanisms and consequences of competition among early life stages of red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), with a special attention to asymmetric competition and multiple-breeding strategy of parents. The overall hypotheses were that (1) red drum larvae show behavioral interactions, and the magnitude of these interactions is explained by the sizes of the competing individuals, (2) red drum larvae compete for food and habitat use, and the competition is asymmetric as determined by size and behavioral interactions, and (3) the parents can reduce negative effects of competition among larvae and increase larval survival by altering their multiple-spawning traits. The laboratory experiments showed the existence of sociality in red drum larvae. The magnitudes of aggressive behavior, vigilant behavior and shoaling behavior were explained by a combination of absolute and relative phenotypes of competing individuals, such as body lengths and body condition. A new method of combining the laboratory experiments and the foraging theory disentangled interference competition for food from exploitative competition, revealing that both absolute and relative body lengths of competing individuals influence feeding efficiencies. In addition, vigilant behavior decreased feeding efficiency regardless of body sizes. The competitor size and behavioral interactions between individuals had different effects on competition for habitat use: the existence of larger individuals prevented the newly settled larvae from entering preferred habitats, whereas the aggressive behavior from the occupants of preferred habitats moved newly settled larvae to the unpreferred habitats. Finally, computer simulations using an individual-based model revealed that as interference competition among larvae increased, the number of spawning events and the spawning interval of the parents increased to lessen competition and maximize total survival of offspring.