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Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) spawning and nursery areas in a sentinel estuary: spatial and temporal patterns

Abstract

Spatial and temporal distribution of anadromous alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus Wilson) spawning and nursery habitats were determined by sampling in the Mullica River – Great Bay watershed (New Jersey, USA) in a combination of long- and short-term observational and quantitative studies. Reproduction was confirmed by examination of developing gonads, visual observations of spawning, and egg collections. Spawning typically lasted 2–4 days in discrete waves in freshwater tributaries from late March to late April. Nursery habitats for larvae and young-of-the-year alewife included low-salinity tributaries near the freshwater-saltwater interface and high salinity waters through early fall before departure to the ocean in late fall. Predation on eggs by fish predators, especially American eel (Anguilla rostrata Lesueur), occurred below a dam. This predation was also observed in the laboratory on eggs and larvae. These findings point out that this dam provided for enhanced predation on alewife early life history stages, and may cause an ecological hotspot for predation-prey interactions for this anadromous species and its catadromous predator.

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Acknowledgements

The extensive monitoring and physical sampling for this study was conducted by Rutgers University Marine Field Station (RUMFS) staff (Christine Denisevich, Roland Hagan, Paul Jivoff, Ryan Larum, Katie Nickerson, Jessica Valenti, Joe Zientek,) and volunteers (Robin Burr, Tom Siciliano, Steve Zeck), as well as Stockton University staff (Steve Evert, Nathan Robinson, Elizabeth Zimmermann, Colby Capri) and students (Colleen Beck, Taylor Fuchs, Chase Barber, Joe Citro, Michael Nguyen, Liam Kehoe, Kevin Risch, Stephanie Ball, Clare Maloney [UMASS-Amherst], and many others). Pat Filardi conducted many of the spawning site observations in 2018. Additional assistance and logistical support provided by Wharton State Forest and Batsto Village (Rob Auermuller, Randy Heffley). Newt Sterling provided support during fyke net operations. Three anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on an earlier draft. Funding for this study was provided by the Rutgers University Marine Field Station prior to 2016, and by RUMFS and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection during 2016 – 2018.

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Online Resource Table 1

Stomach contents, other than alewife eggs and larvae, by fish predator species in Spring 2016 at the dam in the Batsto River (DOCX 39 kb)

Online Resource Fig. 1

Batsto River study site at Batsto Village in the upper portion of the Mullica River – Great Bay estuary (inset) (DOCX 168 kb)

Online Resource Fig. 2

Location of sites for visual observations of alewife spawning in spring 2018. Spawning was confirmed only at the Batsto River dam (pink circle) and at Nescochogue Creek (green circle) in the Mullica River drainage (DOCX 399 kb)

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Able, K.W., Grothues, T.M., Shaw, M.J. et al. Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) spawning and nursery areas in a sentinel estuary: spatial and temporal patterns. Environ Biol Fish 103, 1419–1436 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-020-01032-0

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Keywords

  • Alewife
  • Anadromous
  • Nursery
  • American eel
  • Dam