Spatial and temporal patterns in the contribution of fish from their nursery habitats
Because anthropogenic influences threaten the degradation of many ecosystems, determining where organisms live during early life-history stages and the extent to which different areas contribute individuals to adult populations is critical for the management and conservation of a species. Working in Puget Sound, Washington State in the United States, and using a common flatfish (English sole, Parophrys vetulus), we sought to establish (using otolith chemistry) which areas contribute age-0 fish to age-1 population(s), the extent to which this pattern was consistent between two years, and whether this spatial pattern of contribution coincides with surveys of age-0 fish and/or the available area of nearshore habitat. Our study indicated completely different spatial patterns of fish nursery use between the two years of sampling. We highlight that the contribution of individuals from nursery areas is not related to density of recently settled English sole or the available area of nearshore habitat (depth <10 m) in Puget Sound, nor can we draw conclusions based on environmental data (precipitation, water salinity, light transmission, pH, dissolved oxygen, and water temperature). The results of this study highlight (1) the need for assessing the temporal patterns of nursery habitat use, and (2) that, in order to conservatively manage a species and its population(s), it may be necessary to protect several areas that are used intermittently by that species.