, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 803-813

Habitat utilization by small flatfishes in a North Carolina estuary

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Distribution and abundance of flatfish species (<150 mm standard length) were related to habitat characteristics in the Newport River and Back Sound estuaries in North Carolina. Salinity, turbidity, depth, distance from marsh edge, benthic composition, and grain size were used to describe the different shallow water habitats from April through October 1994. One Scophthalmidae, seven Paralichthyidae, one Achiridae, and one Cynoglossidae species were collected during the study including juvenileParalichthys albigutta (gulf flounder),P. dentatus (summer flounder), andP. lethostigma (southern flounder) along with multiple age classes ofCitharichthys spilopterus (bay whiff),Etropus crossotus (fringed flounder),Symphurus plagiusa (blackcheek tonguefish), andTrinetes maculatus (hogchoker). Incidental catches ofAncylopsetta quadrocellata (ocellated flounder),C. macrops (spotted whiff), andScopthalmus aquosus (windowpane) were also made. Flatfish distributions among habitats varied by species, size within species, and season. Regardless of season, the highest densities of flatfishes were found in the upper estuary. All habitats were used by one or more species and most species occurred at several habitats. Some species were significantly more abundant at specific habitat types. Ontogenetic shifts in habitat utilization were found for several species. High densities of smallP. lethostigma, C. spilopterus, S. plagiusa, andT. maculatus occurred in the upper estuary on muddy substrates. LargeP. dentatus, C. spilopterus, S. plagiusa, andT. maculatus utilized sand flats and channels in the lower estuary.