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Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 101, Issue 1, pp 95–108 | Cite as

Distribution and habitat associations of the California moray (Gymnothorax mordax) within Two Harbors, Santa Catalina Island, California

  • B. A. Higgins
  • R. S. Mehta
Article

Abstract

While kelp forests are some of the best-surveyed ecosystems in California, information on cryptic inhabitants and their role within the community are lacking. Kelp itself provides overall structure to the habitat; however the rocky reef to which the kelp attaches is known to provide additional structure for cryptic species. Gymnothorax mordax, the California moray, is an elusive predatory species that is considered abundant in the waters around Catalina Island. However, no life history data exists for this species. We examined habitat composition, relative abundance, size pattern distributions, and biomass of G. mordax within Two Harbors, Catalina Island. Habitats were sampled using a combination of baited trap collection and transect surveys using SCUBA. A total of 462 G. mordax were captured, primarily in shallow (< 10 m) waters. Individuals of G. mordax were associated with mostly boulder and cobble substrates. Measurements of relative abundance and density indicate that G. mordax is more prevalent than reported in previous studies. We also discovered that the 6 trapping sites from which all morays were collected, differed in size structuring and density while the relatively high biomass did not change across sites. In general, southern facing sites exhibited higher densities of morays, while northern facing sites showed more size structuring. We show how the structural complexity of the rocky reef habitat in an already diverse kelp forest ecosystem, can support a high biomass of a cryptic elongate predatory fish.

Keywords

Catalina Island CPUE Muraenidae Habitat Gymnothorax 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to the Hellman Foundation and Packard grants to R.S.M., the University of California, Santa Cruz Committee on Research grant, and donations via Experiment.com for supporting the research. B.A.H. was in part funded by a UCSC SCWIBLES GK-12 Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF GK-12 DGE-0947923). T. Williams, M. Carr, J. Estes, V. Baliga, C. Law, K. Dale, S. Kienle, C. Jaquemetton, and K. Voss provided valuable input and comments on the manuscript; Sean Hayes, Cyril Mitchell, Rachel Higgins, and Ann Marie Osterback provided invaluable field support; A. Diluzio, S. Eckley, S. Burns, J. Harrison, R. Higgins and J. Redwine assisted with SCUBA transects and data collection; We thank S. Connor, L. Oudin, T. Oudin, K. Spafford, K. Erickson and the staff at the University of Southern California Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies for equipment and logistical support. All procedures were approved by the Institute of Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, USA (#1007).

Supplementary material

10641_2017_684_MOESM1_ESM.tif (9.8 mb)
Table S1 Complete loadings list of 5 variables used in PCA analyses. (TIFF 10066 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Coastal Biology BuildingUniversity of California Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA

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