Semi-lunar spawning in the intertidal zone has been observed in many teleost species. Because the eggs of these species are placed at elevations reached only by the highest tides, the timing of hatching is critical to survival. To quantify and clarify the relationship between development rate, hatching, and survival we developed a computer model that simulated the reproductive strategy in one such species, Fundulus heteroclitus (Linnaeus). We determined expected hatching success for F. heteroclitus embryos as a function of development rate by simulating spawning, embryo development, and hatching of F. heteroclitus embryos in Delaware Bay. Our simulation analysis included manipulation of several model parameters. The results indicated that there is balancing selection acting on development rate in this species. In particular, false hatching cues (rainfall) increased mortality among embryos with very fast and very slow development rates. The simulation results did not appear susceptible to manipulation of the sensitivity of embryos to false hatching cues. The timing of spawning relative to the spring tides determines which development rate is optimal in terms of average hatching success. Including a constant daily mortality rate in our simulations, as a simple model of predation and/or disease, shifted the optimized development rates to faster values. These results may be applicable to other fish species with similar reproductive strategies.
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