, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 461-475
Date: 30 Jul 2013

Response of Lake Pontchartrain Fish Assemblages to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

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To assess possible impacts on Lake Pontchartrain fishes from the 2005 hurricanes, we compared trawl, beach seine, and gillnet collections taken before (2000–2003, 2005) and after (2006–2009) to determine if significant assemblage changes occurred. We also compared basic environmental variables to test for hurricane-related changes. Significant post-hurricane changes in fish assemblages occurred in trawl (analysis of similarity (ANOSIM), R < 0.090, p < 0.05) and beach seine (ANOSIM, R < 0.120, p < 0.05) collections across all seasons. Gillnet assemblages exhibited changes in only one season (ANOSIM, R = 0.045, p < 0.05). These consistently low global R values (all R < 0.120) across all gears suggest only minor compositional changes in species. When peak abundance periods were compared for individual species, Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus) declined in trawl collections after the hurricanes (Friedman's test, χ 2 = 6.00, p = 0.014) but increased in gillnet collections (Friedman's test, χ 2 = 5.00, p = 0.025). Hardhead catfish (Ariopsis felis) increased in trawl collections, but Gulf pipefish (Syngnathus scovelli), naked gobies (Gobiosoma bosc), and rough silverside (Membras martinica) all declined in beach seine samples and Atlantic croakers (Micropogonias undulatus), Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus), and sand seatrout (Cynoscion arenarius) all declined in gillnet samples. In general, salinity increased and water clarity and dissolved oxygen decreased after the hurricanes. While the overall composition of Lake Pontchartrain fish assemblages remains stable, the significant decline of some species and changes in certain environmental variables are cause for concern. Future monitoring should determine if all elements of this estuary will recover from these impacts.

Communicated by: Greg Jenkins