Ecosystem Connectivity of Barracudina - Rich Jones
My research is focused on an obscure group of deep-sea fishes called Barracudina and the extent to which their population dynamics relate to ecosystem connectivity by depth. Barracudina (Paralepididae) are a group of elongated, mesopelagic fishes that generally resemble small Barracuda (Sphyraenidae), thus their common name. While barracudina are comparatively small fishes (max length < 1 meter) they are common lower level predators of the ichthyo fauna at depth and can be extremely abundant locally and potentially dependent on seasonal conditions. As mid-level trophic components of the mesopelagic they represent a common food source for deep diving tunas and whales as well as other mesopelagic and bathypelagic predators. While barracudina are found worldwide, as a group, they are poorly studied despite evidence that they may be important components to pelagic ecosystems throughout its depths.
Initial data from DEEPEND samples suggests that barracudina likely participate in the great vertical migration: entering the shallower depths above 200 meters at night and descending back to the mesophotic zone at dawn. Determining if this is a significant trend or not is one of the two primary goals/hypotheses of my research. My second, primary hypothesis is exploring the possibility that barracudina exhibit a “bigger = deeper” ontogenic shift: that is, I am interested in assessing whether barracudina live at deeper strata as they get larger and older. Both of these dynamics in distribution are commonly observed in mesopelagic fishes but have not been determined for this group specifically. Analyzing these aspects of barracudina ecology could provide grounds for future investigations of vertical connectivity using this species as a model. A secondary goal of my research will be to update the information regarding the taxonomic and geographic range of this species within the Gulf of Mexico based on samples from DEEPEND cruises.