Heterogeneity of macrophyte banks affects the structure of fish communities in flooded habitats of the Amazon Basin

Abstract

In freshwater ecosystems, macrophyte contribute to habitat heterogeneity with their varying structural forms, ranging from free submerged to rooted species. Macrophytes provide substrates that support fish populations, providing food and refuge from predators, especially in semi-lentic environments, like river floodplains, which tend to provide little shelter for small fish. We investigated how the species richness, abundance, and morphological traits of the fish communities of river floodplains in the Amazon region are affected by the heterogeneity of macrophyte beds, based on the relative contribution of each plant species present in these beds. Simple linear regressions were used to investigate the relationship between macrophyte bed heterogeneity and fish species richness, abundance, and morphological traits, evaluated using a community-weighted mean index analysis (CWM). We recorded 16 aquatic macrophyte species and 21 fish species at 34 study sites. Eichhornia azurea and Eichhornia crassipes dominated the macrophyte beds, while the most abundant fish species were Hemigrammus ocellifer and Laimosemion strigatus. The results of the linear regressions of the heterogeneity of the macrophyte beds were only significant for two morphological traits, both linked to fish locomotion. Our results indicate that the heterogeneity of the macrophyte beds acts an environmental filter for the fish species with a high degree of maneuverability, given that these species are able to swim within the macrophyte structures. Although this does not affect the richness and abundance of the fish, the macrophyte beds favor certain species that use this vegetation during the different stages of their life cycle, which present distinct adaptations. The heterogeneity provided by the aquatic macrophytes is thus important to a range of different fish species, by providing shelter and protection for the smaller species with morphological traits that permit their survival in this environment.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this study was provided by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa (CNPq; Edital Universal 461032/2014-7) and Fundação Amazônia Paraense de Amparo a Estudos e Pesquisas (FAPESPA; Financial support for recently employed Ph.Ds—10/2016). We thank the Ferreira Penna Scientific Station (ECFPn from MPEG) for support and assistance in the field, especially “Seu Mó”. We thank the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES—Finance Code 001) and CNPq (process: 132128/2017-9) for the scholarships granted to Flávia Nonato, Pâmela Virgolino, and Calebe Maia and the Graduate Program in Ecology at the Federal University of Pará for providing infrastructure for this research. Finally, we want to thank the all the team in the field for their support, in particular Dr. Raphael Ligeiro, who gave us the opportunity to conduct the study, MSc. Nayara Louback Franco, MSc. Ana Luisa Fares, and MSc. Joás da Silva Brito for their help with data collection and the identification of the macrophyte species in the field and in the laboratory, and to Dr. Stephen F. Ferrari and Sara Lodi for their careful review of the English text.

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Flávia Nonato, Luciano Montag, and Thaisa Michelan contributed to the conception and design of the study. Flávia Nonato conducted the fieldwork and collected the data, with additional help from the collaborators. The material was prepared and analyzed by Flávia Nonato, Pâmela Virgulino, and Calebe Maia. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Flávia Nonato, and supervised by Luciano Montag and Thaisa Michelan. All the authors provided input on the initial versions of the manuscript, and have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Thaisa Sala Michelan.

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Nonato, F.A.S., Michelan, T.S., Freitas, P.V. et al. Heterogeneity of macrophyte banks affects the structure of fish communities in flooded habitats of the Amazon Basin. Aquat Ecol 55, 215–226 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10452-020-09823-4

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Keywords

  • Ichthyofauna
  • CWM
  • Aquatic plants
  • Environmental complexity