Spatial variability in branchial basket meristics and morphology of southern African sardine Sardinops sagax
We examined spatial variability in meristic and morphological characteristics of the branchial basket of sardine Sardinops sagax collected from four geographical regions around the southern African coast, namely Namibia and the South African west, south and east coasts. Our analysis tested the hypothesis of three putative sardine stocks off South Africa, one in each of the three geographical regions. We therefore collected fish data from Namibia to compare with South Africa, because sardine from the two countries are considered to be separate stocks. Morphometric measurements (gill arch length and gill raker spacing) and meristic data (number of gill rakers) were collected from the left side of the first gill arch from a total of 377 sardine, approximately equally divided between the regions. A multivariate general linear model with caudal length as covariate was used to assess differences among fish from the four regions and significant differences were observed, although not always consistently across all fish size classes. Small South Coast sardine had shorter gill arches than small West Coast sardine, but adults had gill arches of similar length, longer than those from Namibia and the East Coast. Small sardine from the South Coast had fewer gill rakers than small sardine from the West Coast, but larger fish had similar numbers of gill rakers, significantly more than sardine from Namibia and the East Coast. Sardine from the West and South coasts had similar gill raker spacings, which were smaller than those of fish from the East Coast and Namibia. Despite spatially and particularly temporally unbalanced sampling, we consider that these differences provide evidence of spatial variation in Benguela sardine phenotype and that it would support the hypothesis of discrete sardine stocks off Namibia and South Africa. The results are consistent with the hypothesis of three sardine stocks within the southern Benguela.
Keywords: gill arch, gill raker, population structure