, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 201-214
Date: 01 Mar 2012

Trends in estuarine fish assemblages facing different environmental conditions: combining diversity with functional attributes

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Abstract

Changes in the Mondego estuary (Portugal) fish assemblage were documented with a long-term monitoring program between June 2003 and March 2010, during which several extreme environmental events occurred, including severe droughts and heavy precipitation. The structure and composition of the fish assemblage was analyzed based on a set of indicators: dominance, diversity, evenness, and composition in functional groups (ecological and feeding guilds). Higher species number, diversity, and evenness were observed in the dry periods. Variations in the relative abundance of the ecological guilds were also observed: in dry years, estuarine residents were the most abundant group, while in typical and rainy years, the marine estuarine-dependent species increased in abundance. Among the feeding guilds, the most abundant group was the invertebrate and fish feeders. Planktivorous and invertebrate feeders occurred in higher abundance in dry years, while the opposite was verified for omnivorous species. The mean trophic level of the fish assemblage increased during the drought period, constantly decreasing afterward, which could be attributed to an increase in predators in dry years. The cumulative responses of estuarine fish assemblages to ongoing climate changes and discrete extreme weather events confirm their importance as indicators of environmental changes.

Handling Editor: Thomas Mehner.