Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 102, Issue 2, pp 129–145 | Cite as

Hydrodynamic and isotopic niche differentiation between juveniles of two sympatric cryptic bonefishes, Albula vulpes and Albula goreensis

  • Christopher R. HaakEmail author
  • Michael Power
  • Geoffrey W. Cowles
  • Andy J. Danylchuk


We employed numerical wave models, GIS, and stable isotope analyses of otolith material to identify interspecific differences in habitat and resource use among juveniles of two sympatric and morphologically indistinct bonefishes, A. goreensis and A. vulpes in littoral zones of The Bahamas. Both species occurred in similar water temperatures; however, A. goreensis juveniles occupied habitats characterized by greater wave-driven flow velocities and closer proximity to coral reefs than A. vulpes. Likewise, A. goreensis was present across a broader range of flow environments and sampling stations than A. vulpes, which was typically confined to sheltered, low-flow habitats. The results of stable isotope analyses were consistent with the species’ relationships with environmental parameters, providing support for differential habitat and/or resource utilization. Otolith δ18O did not differ significantly between species, suggesting they experience comparable thermal regimes. However, δ13C varied substantially, with the otoliths of A. goreensis depleted in 13C relative to A. vulpes by approximately 1‰, potentially signifying a greater reliance on pelagic carbon sources by the former, in agreement with observed distinctions in habitat use. In linear models, otolith δ13C was negatively correlated with ambient flow velocity and positively related to distance from coral reef habitats, and these relationships did not vary across species. After accounting for the effects of these variables, species-specific differences in otolith δ13C remained, indicating that other unknown factors contributed to the observed disparities. Collectively, our findings suggest that niche partitioning between A. goreensis and A. vulpes is likely mediated by their differential abilities to compete across various flow environments, likely as a result of divergent behavioral and/or physiological adaptation.


Cryptic species Albula spp. Stable isotopes Otolith Wave exposure Flow Juvenile habitat Niche partitioning Behavior 



The authors wish to thank Lucas Griffin, Justin Lewis, and Brittany Sims for their assistance with field and laboratory work. Special thanks are due to Liz Wallace for her help with genetic species identifications. We are likewise grateful to Aaron Shultz, Karen Murchie, and David Philipp for their support. We also thank our reviewers, including Mike Allen and Derke Snodgrass, for input that improved this manuscript substantively. This research was funded by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) and conducted under University of Massachusetts IACUC protocol #2010-0005. Danylchuk is a BTT Research Fellow and is also supported by the National Institute of Food & Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station and Department of Environmental Conservation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Conservation and Intercampus Marine Science Graduate ProgramUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  3. 3.Department of Fisheries Oceanography, School for Marine Science and TechnologyUniversity of Massachusetts DartmouthNew BedfordUSA

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