How variable is recruitment for exploited marine fishes? A hierarchical model for testing life history theory

James T. Thorson, Olaf P. Jensen, Elise F. Zipkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Recruitment often varies substantially in fish populations, and residual variability may have serial autocorrelation due to environmental effects even after accounting for a stock-recruitment relationship. However, the likely magnitude of variability and autocorrelation in recruitment has yet to be formally estimated. We therefore developed a hierarchical model for recruitment variability and autocorrelation and applied it to data for 154 fish populations. Results were similar when using either the Ricker or Beverton-Holt stock-recruitment model, and showed that autocorrelated recruitment has a marginal standard deviation of 0.74 (SD = 0.35) and a mean autocorrelation of 0.43 (SD = 0.28) when predicting for an unobserved taxonomic order. Estimates differed somewhat among taxonomic orders and stocks, and also supported a hypothesized positive relationship between age at maturity and autocorrelation in recruitment. Our results can be used as a Bayesian prior for recruitment variability in models for data-poor stocks and to distinguish recruitment from other process errors in models for data-rich stocks. Estimates can also be used in the design of future simulation models and management strategy evaluations and in theoretical research regarding life history variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-983
Number of pages11
JournalCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science

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