Linking Habitat Use and Trophic Ecology of Spotted Seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) on a Restored Oyster Reef in a Subtropical Estuary
Predicting population- and ecosystem-level benefits of habitat restoration minimally requires an understanding of the link between the trophic ecology of a species and their use of a habitat. This study combined novel, non-lethal natural tracers of trophic ecology with acoustic tagging techniques to examine spatial and temporal patterns of habitat use of spotted seatrout Cynoscion nebulosus on Half Moon Reef (HMR), a recently restored oyster reef in Matagorda Bay, Texas. Forty-one spotted seatrout (408 ± 25 mm total length) were captured at HMR, surgically implanted with acoustic transmitters, and monitored by an array of underwater listening stations from December 2015 to August 2016. Patterns of presence-absence on HMR were strongly influenced by water temperature, and to a lesser extent, salinity and tidal height. Overall, spotted seatrout residency to HMR was low, with fish being present on the reef 24% of days. When present, individual fish exhibited strong site-attachment to small portions of the reef. Residency to HMR increased significantly with size, while scale stable isotope analysis revealed fish exhibiting high residency to HMR occupied significantly smaller isotopic niches. If indeed smaller fish with decreased residency rely upon a wider range of prey items across multiple habitats than larger, more resident individuals, restored oyster reef habitat may be expected to primarily benefit larger spotted seatrout.
KeywordsGulf of Mexico Acoustic telemetry Stable isotope analysis Environmental drivers Residency
We thank C. Ruiz, J. Plumlee, T. Richards, J. Martinez, J. Williams, J. Bowling, S. Mohan, C. Biggs, and B. Erisman for their assistance collecting and tagging fish, J. Sullivan for valuable insight into the study site, and J. Findley for facilitating lodging. We thank M. Dance for discussions regarding statistical analysis, and J. Zahradnik and G. Ging for reporting recaptured fish. Research was conducted under the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Texas A&M University at Galveston (AUP-IACUC 2015-0145). Funding was provided by The Nature Conservancy of Texas.
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