Turning passive detection systems into field experiments: an application using wetland fishes and enclosures to track fine-scale movement and habitat choice
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Understanding habitat selection and movement remains a key question in behavioral ecology. Yet, obtaining a sufficiently high spatiotemporal resolution of the movement paths of organisms remains a major challenge, despite recent technological advances. Observing fine-scale movement and habitat choice decisions in the field can prove to be difficult and expensive, particularly in expansive habitats such as wetlands. We describe the application of passive integrated transponder (PIT) systems to field enclosures for tracking detailed fish behaviors in an experimental setting. PIT systems have been applied to habitats with clear passageways, at fixed locations or in controlled laboratory and mesocosm settings, but their use in unconfined habitats and field-based experimental setups remains limited. In an Everglades enclosure, we continuously tracked the movement and habitat use of PIT-tagged centrarchids across three habitats of varying depth and complexity using multiple flatbed antennas for 14 days. Fish used all three habitats, with marked species-specific diel movement patterns across habitats, and short-lived movements that would be likely missed by other tracking techniques. Findings suggest that the application of PIT systems to field enclosures can be an insightful approach for gaining continuous, undisturbed and detailed movement data in unconfined habitats, and for experimentally manipulating both internal and external drivers of these behaviors.
KeywordsMovement behavior Habitat selection Fishes Passive antennas PIT tags Field enclosures
We thank the South Florida Water Management District for funding, and the support and valuable assistance of R. Desliu, J.P. Perea, M. Anderson, A. Narducci, D. Gandy, M.B. Gallagher, A. Jungman, and F. Sklar. This project was also supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) WSC-1204762 to J.S.R. and developed in collaboration with the Florida Coastal Everglades LTER Program (NSF DBI-0620409). This is contribution number 627 from the Southeast Environmental Research Center at Florida International University.
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