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Keywords:

  • length at age;
  • swimming ability;
  • depth selection;
  • substrate selection;
  • light response

Abstract –  Understanding the larval ecology of individual fish species is fundamental in ensuring their long-term conservation. The endangered eastern freshwater cod, Maccullochella ikei, is endemic to the Clarence and Richmond River systems of north-eastern New South Wales, Australia. Little is known about the behaviour of larval M. ikei in the wild, particularly before and after the swim-up stage, and following dispersal from the nest site. The aims of this study were to quantify the swimming ability, depth selection, light preference and substrate selection of hatchling to day-30 M. ikei under controlled laboratory conditions, and to describe its growth and development over the same period. Maccullochella ikei larvae grew constantly but not consistently during the experiment. Exogenous feeding commenced around day 12, prior to the full exhaustion of the yolk. Maximal swimming ability improved daily, but maximum swimming speed declined significantly between days 12 and 13 and remained low. Maccullochella ikei larvae were initially photonegative but were positively phototactic by day 10. Depth selection was for the benthos until day 8, beyond which time larvae dispersed to all depths when released. Substrate selection was for sand in younger larvae but changed to upstream substrates as the experiment progressed. The results of the current study suggest that the period between day 10 and day 20 is critical in the early ontogeny of M. ikei, when it switched phototrophic behaviour, transitioned from endogenous to exogenous feeding and experienced a decline in swimming ability.