Reproductive Timing in Marine Fishes: Variability, Temporal Scales, and Methods
Reproductive timing can be defined as the temporal pattern of reproduction over a lifetime. Although reproductive timing is highly variable in marine fishes, certain traits are universal, including sexual maturity, undergoing one or more reproductive cycles, participating in one or more spawning events within a reproductive cycle, release of eggs or offspring, aging, and death. These traits commonly occur at four temporal scales: lifetime, annual, intraseasonal, and diel. It has long been known that reproductive timing affects reproductive success, especially in terms of the onset of sexual maturity and the match or mismatch between seasonal spawning and offspring survival. However, a comprehensive understanding of variability in reproductive timing over species, populations, and temporal scales is lacking. In addition, there is a need to assess how variability in reproductive timing affects a population’s resilience. Because natural selection occurs at the individual level, this necessitates an understanding of within-population (i.e., individual) variability in reproductive timing and how fishing may impact it through age truncation and size-specific selectivity or fisheries-induced evolution. In this paper, we review the temporal aspects of reproductive strategies and the four most-studied reproductive timing characteristics in fishes: sexual maturity, spawning seasonality, spawning frequency, and diel periodicity. For each characteristic, we synthesize how it has traditionally been measured, advances in understanding the underlying physiology, its role in equilibrium-based fish population dynamics, and its importance to reproductive success. We then provide a review of emerging methodology—with an emphasis on ovarian histology—to improve our ability to assess variability in reproductive timing both among populations and within populations.