Monsoonal wet season influences the migration tendency of a catadromous fish (barramundi Lates calcarifer)

Brien H. Roberts, John R. Morrongiello, David L. Morgan, Alison J. King, Thor M. Saunders, Sam C. Banks, David A. Crook

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1. Many animals exhibit partial migration, which occurs when populations contain coexisting contingents of migratory and resident individuals. This individual-level variation in migration behaviour may drive differences in growth, age at maturity and survival. Therefore, partial migration is widely considered to play a key role in shaping population demography. 

2. Otolith chemistry and microstructural analysis were used to identify the environmental- and individual-specific factors that influence migratory behaviour in the facultatively catadromous barramundi (Lates calcarifer) at two distinct life history stages: firstly, as juveniles migrating upstream into fresh water; and secondly, as adults or sub-adults returning to the estuarine/marine spawning habitat. 

3. Monsoonal climate played an important role in determining the migration propensity of juveniles: individuals born in the driest year examined (weak monsoon) were more than twice as likely to undergo migration to freshwater than those born in the wettest (strong monsoon) year. In contrast, the ontogenetic timing of return migrations to the estuary by adults and sub-adults was highly variable and not strongly associated with the environmental parameters examined. 

4. We propose that scarce resources within saline natal habitats during lower rainfall years may provide an ecological incentive for juveniles to migrate upstream, whereas more abundant resources in higher rainfall years may promote resident life histories within estuaries. 

5. We conclude that inter-annual climatic variation, here evidenced by monsoonal strength, likely plays an important role in driving the persistence of diversified life histories within wild barramundi populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-94
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


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