Variability in abundance of adult stages in marine fishes is generally thought to be a function of processes operating in the larval or early juvenile stages. Better understanding of these processes has tremendous value in predicting the abundance of an age cohort later in life (year class strength), and for evaluating the potential impact of both natural and human-induced environmental changes on fish populations. Despite extensive research efforts in this field in recent decades, definitive linkages between environmental patterns and larval/juvenile survival remain elusive. Complex interactions of spatial and temporal patterns in habitat quality, physical conditions, and the community structure of interacting species presumably contribute to the difficulty in resolving discrete causal relationships.
The continuing threatened status of West Coast salmonid populations and the currently developing groundfish crisis warrant more intensive research into the array of factors driving early survival. Current projects being conducted by the Early Life History team focus on larval quality and growth rates as indicators of individual fitness. This individual variability provides the template on which mortality acts. Our research attempts to understand both the long term evolutionary selection pressures that maintain individual variability and the short term effects of individual differences on survival under specific environmental conditions.