, Volume 59, Issue 4, pp 429-440

Effects of El Niño-related Drought on Freshwater and Brackish-water Fishes in Suriname, South America

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Abstract

Droughts associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) affected fishes of brackish-water lagoons, freshwater swamps and a rainforest creek in Suriname, South America. The mean rainfall in the period August to February in 22 El Niño years was 76.6% of the mean rainfall in the same months of non-El Niño years. In the period 1900–1999, three out of four years in which an extreme drought (rainfall less then 60% of the mean value) occurred were El Niño years. The recent 1997/1998 ENSO event caused the second most severe drought in a 100-year record. Drying up of brackish-water lagoons, freshwater swamps and rainforest creeks was observed during El Niño-related droughts. In the lagoons ariid catfish died first, followed by snook, tilapia, mullet and tarpon, respectively. Landings of lagoon fish were positively correlated with rainfall in the period August–February. During the El Niño-related drought we observed failure of reproduction in three species of callichthyid armoured catfish in both coastal freshwater swamps and a rainforest creek in the interior. In the El Niño year 1997/1998, the ‘no flow’ period of the rainforest creek was extended by four months beyond the long dry season and the dissolved oxygen levels in the dry-season pools dropped to 1.27 mg O2l−1 (as compared to 4.53 mg O2 l−1 under running water conditions). Other fish species of the rainforest creek also showed decreased reproductive success in the El Niño year. We suggest that the stochastic effects of El Niño-related drought may be an important non-equilibrium component in the ecology of neotropical inland fish communities.