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Intra-specific scaling of natural mortality in fish: the paradigmatic case of the European eel


Identifying factors and processes influencing natural mortality is fundamental to the understanding of population dynamics. Metabolic theory of ecology and experimental studies at the cross-species level suggest the existence of general patterns linking natural mortality to body mass and temperature. However, there is scant evidence that similar relationships also hold at the intra-specific scale, possibly because of the relatively narrow range of sizes and temperatures experienced by most species and the effect of local adaptation, which can obscure links between temperature and vital rates. In this sense, the European eel Anguilla anguilla, a panmictic species with a wide distribution range, provides a paradigmatic case. We compiled data published in the past 30 years on eel mortality during the continental phase of the life cycle for 15 eel stocks and calibrated a general model for mortality, considering the effects of body mass, temperature, stock density and gender. Estimated activation energy (E = 1.2 eV) was at the upper extreme reported for metabolic reactions. Estimated mortality rates (ranging between 0.02 year−1 at 8°C, low density and 0.47 year−1 at 18°C, high density for a body mass of 100 g) were appreciably lower than those of most fishes, most likely due to the exceptionally low energy-consuming metabolism of eel.

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We thank Fiorenza Micheli, David Cairns and two anonymous referees for useful comments on the manuscript draft and Simone Vincenzi for support in the statistical analyses. We are also grateful to Remigio Rossi, Leif Vøllestad and Håkan Wickström for providing access to unpublished data. This work was supported by Italian Ministry of Research (PRIN project #2006054928 “An Integrated Approach to the Conservation and Management of the European Eel in the Mediterranean Region” and Interlink project #II04CE49G8).

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Correspondence to Daniele Bevacqua.

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Communicated by Craig Osenberg.

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Bevacqua, D., Melià, P., De Leo, G.A. et al. Intra-specific scaling of natural mortality in fish: the paradigmatic case of the European eel. Oecologia 165, 333–339 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-010-1727-9

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  • Anguilla anguilla
  • Allometric theory
  • Density-dependent survival
  • Life history variation
  • Temperature scaling of vital rates