Importance of Depth and Artificial Structure as Predictors of Female Red Snapper Reproductive Parameters

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The Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus is a structure-associated species occurring across a wide depth range in the northern Gulf of Mexico. We used the random forest machine learning algorithm to understand which habitat and individual fish characteristics could predict reproductive parameters of female Red Snapper. We evaluated fish captured from 2016 to 2018 on three artificial structure types with various structure heights at depths of 100 m or less. Overall, we found that depth and month were important predictors for most reproductive parameters, but the type of structure (artificial reefs, oil platforms, and rigs-to-reefs structures) was not important. Maturity was correctly classified in 88.9% of the cases when using the random forest ensemble model, with important predictors including FL, depth, structure height, and month of collection. Spawning seasonality (measured as gonadosomatic index [GSI]) was correctly classified in 59.5% of the cases when using histology reproductive phase, FL, month, and depth variables. Reproductively active or inactive females were correctly classified in 89.3% of the cases using GSI, month, FL, and depth, while females in the developing versus spawning capable phases were correctly classified in 82.2% of the cases using GSI, FL, month, and depth. Histological indicators that show potential spawning within a 36-h period were correctly classified 61.5% of the time, with the best predictors being depth, FL, GSI, and month. Stepwise regression indicated that month was the only factor that significantly predicted contrasts in relative batch fecundity, with significantly greater values in August compared to all other months. Our findings suggest that female Red Snapper reproductive effort is not consistently or well predicted by artificial structure type or height but that a combination of fish FL, month, and depth can predict reproductive characteristics of female Red Snapper.

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Transactions of the American Fisheries Society





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