Patterns of color phase indicate spawn timing at a Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus spawning aggregation

Archer SK, SA Heppell, BX Semmens, CV Pattengill-Semmens, PG Bush, CM McCoy, BC Johnson. 2012. Patterns of color phase indicate spawn timing at a Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus spawning aggregation.

Current Zoology. 58 (1): 73-83

Members of REEF's Grouper Moon Project team, including researchers from Oregon State University, have been conducting annual monitoring of the size and color phase of individual Nassau grouper found at the spawning aggregation on Little Cayman in the Cayman Islands. During non-spawning periods Nassau grouper display a reddish-brown-and-white barred coloration. However, while aggregating they exhibit three additional color phases: “bicolor”, “dark”, and “white belly”. Each year, Grouper Moon Project researchers and volunteers use a video camera with lasers mounted on the camera housing. The divers focus the laser caliper equipped video camera on individual fish at the aggregation, capturing several seconds of footage for each fish. We later analyze the video to determine the length of the fish and record the color phase. This paper summarizes five years of video data. Our observations show that the relative proportion of fish in the bicolor color phase increases significantly on the day leading up to the primary night of spawning. The increase in the proportion of the bicolor color phase from 0.05 early in the aggregation to 0.40 on the day of spawning suggests that this color phase conveys that a fish is behaviorally and physiologically prepared to spawn. Additionally, 82.7% of fish exhibiting dark or white belly coloration early in the aggregation period suggests that these color phases are not only shown by female fish as was previously assumed in the scientific literature. This is just one aspect of the important marine conservation research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. To find out more, visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

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