Deep-sea habitats are home for a variety of yet poorly known fish species, some of which display specialized life strategies, as is the case of Bythitidae and Zoarcidae. With the purpose of elucidating biological and ecological aspects of representatives of these families in NW Mediterranean waters, a large dataset based on 599 specimens of Cataetyx alleni, 30 C. laticeps and 284 Melanostigma atlanticum captured during the last 30 years within the framework of different research projects was used to address their geographical and bathymetric distribution, population structure, reproduction, trophic ecology, parasitism and enzymatic markers in the Balearic basin. Present outcomes revealed a patchy distribution mostly for M. atlanticum, possibly related to aggregation during reproduction and to the association with specific sediments. For the three species, higher densities occurred in the mainland vs. the insular margin, and a diminishing trend in estimated densities over the last decades was observed for C. alleni and M. atlanticum likely linked to climatic oscillations. Trophic data indicated that the two Cataetyx species inhabit the water-sediment interface and mainly feed on suprabenthic prey, while M. atlanticum inhabits the water column near the bottom preying on pelagic organisms and moving towards the seabed during reproduction. These results were supported by the parasitological assessment, which revealed that parasite communities were moderately diverse and abundant for Cataetyx spp. while being highly depauperate for M. atlanticum. Present outcomes from the Mediterranean Sea confirmed reproduction of C. alleni during autumn-winter and of M. atlanticum during autumn. Spawning of the former species may occur in winter-spring, as suggested by the finding, by the first time, of two females captured in March with fully-developed embryos inside. Levels of enzymatic markers quantified in muscle were provided for C. alleni and M. atlanticum for the first time. The special interactions found between the distribution and biology of Bythitidae and Zoarcidae and the sedimentary bottoms that they inhabit indicates that such conventional habitats are more heterogeneous than it is generally assumed and deserve higher attention for future protection.
|Journal||Deep-Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Oct 2021|