Temperate zone winters are experiencing greater rates of warming relative to other seasons and latitudinal regions globally. Spring-spawning fishes native to northern environments rely on both increasing temperature and lengthening photoperiod to cue reproduction and may thus be particularly sensitive to rapid warming earlier in the year while day lengths remain short. We investigated the reproductive response of pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus) to spring warming commencing at a range of day lengths (9–15 hours), corresponding to various calendar days (10 January – 22 May). In both the laboratory and field, both male and female fish that experienced early warming while day lengths were <11 hours (1) failed to initiate reproductive preparation in the liver before gonad development began and (2) had reduced reproductive allocation. Analysis of published data on temperate fishes suggested that liver development prior to gonad development is widespread across warm-, cool-, and cold-water thermal guilds, though the precise phenology of liver relative to gonad development appears to vary widely among species. Together, our results point toward dampened reproductive preparation as a novel mechanism mediating reduced reproductive output in both warm- and cool-water fish following earlier spring warming.

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