Occurrence and life history characteristics of tropical flatfishes at the coral reefs of Curaçao, Dutch Caribbean
• Four flatfish species were caught at the coral reef.
• Three Bothidae species were common.
• Growth varied between species with maximum age between 1 and 2 years.
•All Bothus species were carnivores, preying on a mobile epibenthic fauna.
•All species showed growth rates comparable with temperate flatfish species.
In this paper, life history characteristics of tropical flatfishes occurring at the fringing reefs of Curaçao to a depth of 20 m were studied. In total four flatfish species were caught, three common Bothidae species: the eyed flounder Bothus ocellatus, the mottled or maculated flounder B. maculiferus and the peacock flounder B. lunatus, and –in small numbers- the channel flounder Syacium micrurum. B. ocellatus and S. micrurum only occurred in sandy moats on the shallow reef terrace and fore reef and between coral patches on the terrace and fore reef slope. The other species could also be found on coral patches. The depth distribution of the various species overlapped: all species were caught over a depth range from a few meters up to 20 m. All Bothus species were carnivores, preying on a variety of mobile benthic animals such as fishes and crustaceans. Reproduction seemed to occur year round in all three Bothus species. Growth between the species varied considerably with a maximum age found in B. maculiferus and B. lunatus of a little over 1 year, and in B. ocellatus of about 2 years. Growth was lowest in B. ocellatus and highest in B. lunatus: after one year B. ocellatus was about 10 cm in size, B. maculiferus 25 cm and B. lunatus about 35 cm. After correction for differences in water temperature, the Bothus species showed a similar variability and range in growth rate as some temperate and subtropical flatfish species. These observations do not fit the hypothesis postulated by Pauly (1994) of an increasing importance of food-limitation in juvenile flatfish with decreasing latitude, despite the low densities and biomass of benthic in- and epifauna in the soft sediments in mangroves, seagrass beds and the reefs of Curaçao.