Estuarine-dependent fishes experience a wide range of environmental conditions, and most species exhibit distinct associations with particular habitats. However, similar species or multiple conspecifics often overlap spatiotemporally, which can result in ecological interactions that have consequences for behaviors that can shape the structure and function of ecosystems. We used a long-term gill-net data set (2001–2015) to investigate the habitat associations and cooccurrence patterns of two estuarine-dependent predatory fishes, Red Drum Sciaenops ocellatus and Spotted Seatrout Cynoscion nebulosus, in coastal Alabama, USA. Both species were associated with similar environmental conditions, primarily low dissolved oxygen and low salinity, especially when temperature was low. However, differences emerged between the species with respect to the effects of interacting environmental variables on their habitat use patterns, which were likely driven by physiological, biological, and ecological dissimilarities between them. Concerning their biogenic habitat use, extensive submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) was an important habitat for both species, but Spotted Seatrout appeared to prefer high-salinity SAV beds, while Red Drum associated with SAV regardless of salinity. Spotted Seatrout were associated with extensive emergent marsh edges, and the positive relationship between Red Drum and SAV was diminished when marsh edge was abundant. Co-occurrence was observed primarily in habitats with which both species were associated, most frequently in shallow, prey-rich marsh edges and high-salinity seagrass beds. These observed habitat use patterns elucidate the subtle differences in resource use that allow these species to coexist and suggest potential areas where interactions between them may shape their roles as predators.
Marine and Environmental Sciences
Recommended publisher citation: Livernois, M.C., Powers, S.P., Albins, M.A. and Mareska, J.F. (2020), Habitat Associations and Co-Occurrence Patterns of Two Estuarine-Dependent Predatory Fishes. Mar Coast Fish, 12: 64-77. https://doi.org/10.1002/mcf2.10104
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