Larval development and reproductive strategies of Central Amazon fishes
Larval development and reproduction of 19 species of Central Amazonian fish (five cichlids, two siluriforms, one osteoglossiform and 11 characiforms) were studied over two years. Most species spawn during the flooding season. The cichlids, the siluriforms and two species of characiform are nest spawners, reproducing in the littoral areas of the floodplain. The osteoglossiform is a mouth-brooder. The remaining characiforms spawn in the river channels and show no parental care. Two main strategies explain 90% of the variability of reproductive traits found among the 19 species. The first strategy is used by riverine spawners (characiforms). They have high fecundity , high to very high reproductive expenditure (calories per spawn per wet weight of female) and spawn once a year during a short season. Their eggs vary in size from 0.06 to 0.3 mg and have intermediate to high calorific value. The second strategy is used by the cichlids and two species of characiforms. They have low fecundity, low reproductive expenditure, long spawning season, multiple spawnings per season and some of them show parental care. Their eggs vary in size from 0.4 to 1.2 mg and have an intermediate calorific content. The other three species show distinct combinations of reproductive traits, but have as common feature a high reproductive expenditure, a short annual spawning season and parental care. Patterns of larval development are correlated with egg size and adult spawning sites. Egg size explained most of variability of larval body size at hatching, pectoral fin bud, eye pigmentation, jaw formation, swim bladder inflation, onset of swimming, first feeding and maximum size attained with exclusively endogenous feeding. The pattern of blood circulation of the larvae was correlated with the spawning sites. Larvae of riverine spawners are small, utilize yolk efficiently and are relatively resistant to starvation. Newly hatched larvae of riverine spawners seem to be very sensitive to physico-chemical conditions of the floodplain lakes, but by the first feeding stage they develop some resistance to the low availability of oxygen. Larvae of littoral spawners are large, utilize yolk less efficiently, and seem to be resistant to low concentrations of oxygen. The resistance of larvae to oxygen deficiency is correlated with the development of the larval respiratory system. It is suggested that egg size of riverine spawners was selected to optimize the distance of the dispersal of the larvae in a range of floodplain lakes. Conversely, egg size of floodplain spawners seemed to be selected to optimize larval survival in the spawning lake. The results are further discussed in relation to life history models.