Thresholds in seascape connectivity: influence of mobility, habitat distribution, and current strength on fish movement
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- Caldwell, I.R. & Gergel, S.E. Landscape Ecol (2013) 28: 1937. doi:10.1007/s10980-013-9930-9
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Assessing connectivity of the marine environment is a fundamental challenge for marine conservation and planning, yet conceptual development in habitat connectivity has been based on terrestrial examples rather than marine ecosystems. Here, we explore differences in marine environments that could affect localized movement of marine organisms and demonstrate the importance of incorporating them into seascape models. We link a fish-based cost surface model to simulated seascapes to test hypotheses about the effects of fish mobility, water current strength, and their interactions on functional connectivity of a seascape. Our models predict that sedentary fish should be more sensitive to habitat change than more mobile fish. Furthermore, highly mobile fish should be more sensitive to water currents than habitat change. In our models, the cost of swimming against a current (of any strength) exceeded its benefits, resulting in overall decreases in connectivity with increasing current strengths. We further hypothesized that thresholds in functional connectivity will be affected by both fish mobility and water current strength. Connectivity thresholds in the models occurred when 10–50 % of benthic habitat was favourable; below these thresholds there was a rapid increase in path cost. Thresholds were influenced by the interaction of relative habitat costs (simulated fish mobility) and habitat fragmentation: thresholds for less mobile fish (higher relative cost) were reached at lower habitat abundance when habitat was fragmented, while thresholds for mobile fish were less affected by fragmentation. Our approach suggests mobility and water current are useful indicators of connectivity in marine environments and should be incorporated in seascape models.