Benefits of adjacent habitat patches to the distribution of a crayfish population in a hydro-dynamic wetland landscape
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Aquatic macrophyte patches are natural features of wetland ecosystems that serve as habitat for aquatic animals. Previous studies suggest animal densities in Everglades, USA, wetlands are generally less numerous in sawgrass ridges than in deeper lily sloughs. We studied the density distribution of a population of Procambarus fallax in ridge and slough habitat types over a 2-year period, spanning two wet–dry cycles and estimated growth and survival rates under flooded conditions to understand comparative value of each to the crayfish population. Procambarus fallax individuals inhabited and recruited in both marsh habitats. During periods of high water, crayfish densities were similar in both habitats; however, densities in both habitats varied seasonally, leading us to postulate some degree of population redistribution in response to fluctuating water depths. Analysis of size distributions over time revealed juveniles in both habitats and two major recruitment periods each year; distinct juvenile cohorts were present in early winter (Nov–Dec) and mid-summer (July–Aug). An in situ experiment of juvenile growth demonstrated that slough habitat type supported faster growth over ridge habitat. To understand habitat-specific mortality risk, a tethering study during flooded conditions indicated that relative predation risk by aquatic predators was greater in sloughs for all sizes and higher for smaller individuals in both habitats. The comparative importance of ridge and slough balances growth potential and survival probability during flooded conditions. This is the first study through time and across both habitat types analyzing the distribution and size structure of P. fallax population in the Everglades.