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Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 1233–1250 | Cite as

Fish Productivity and Trophic Transfer in Created and Naturally Occurring Salt Marsh Habitat

  • Robert E. VincentEmail author
  • Michele Dionne
  • David M. Burdick
  • Erik A. Hobbie
Article

Abstract

High marsh pools are natural features in New England salt marshes that provide important subtidal refuge for the dominant resident fish, Fundulus heteroclitus (mummichog). F. heteroclitus is considered an important component in the trophic transfer pathway for its omnivorous diet and role as a prey species providing connectivity to adjacent near-shore and terrestrial habitats. Pool creation, such as ditch-plugging, is a common component of habitat restoration and enhancement projects throughout the region. Our study combined field experiments measuring fish growth and benthic invertebrates with carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes measurements to test the hypothesis that ditch plug pools have similar trophic structure and levels of productivity as naturally occurring salt marsh pools. Marked fish placed in enclosures were measured for length and weight weekly in natural pools and pools created using ditch plugs. Benthic invertebrates were sieved and sorted from soil cores to characterize invertebrate community structure, and stable isotopes were used to posit diets and trophic pathways associated with each pool type. Growth in fish length was 27 % higher and instantaneous biomass growth 17 % higher in natural pool habitat than in ditch plug habitat. Likewise, invertebrate species richness, biomass, and caloric value were all significantly greater in natural pool habitat than in ditch plugs. Stable isotope mixing models identified distinct resource utilization and trophic structure for natural and created pools. We attribute these differences to flooding and plant loss in response to ditch-plugging, which reduces habitat quality (as measured by resource availability, community structure, and trophic transfer) for fish and invertebrates. Our study increases our understanding of the ecology of salt marsh pools, and the significant results indicate that pools created using ditch plugs do not replicate the structure and function of natural pools at Moody Marsh.

Keywords

Ditch plug Food web Connectivity Stable isotope Invertebrates Pools New England 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Beth Lambert at the New Hampshire Coastal Program for assistance with data collection and equipment. Additional thanks go to Andy Ouimette at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Stable Isotope Lab, Alyson Eberhardt at the UNH Jackson Estuarine Lab, and staff at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. We thank Fred Short and Tom Lee of UNH, associate editor Richard MacKenzie, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments that improved this manuscript. This work was funded by the NOAA/National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The US Fish and Wildlife Service provided a special use permit for work at Moody Marsh. This work is dedicated to our co-author, Michele Dionne, a talented scientist, mentor, colleague, and friend who contributed greatly to estuarine research and conservation. Jackson Estuarine Laboratory Contribution #524.

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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert E. Vincent
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Michele Dionne
    • 2
  • David M. Burdick
    • 1
  • Erik A. Hobbie
    • 3
  1. 1.Jackson Estuarine LaboratoryUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Wells National Estuarine Research ReserveWellsUSA
  3. 3.Earth Systems Research Center, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and SpaceUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  4. 4.MIT Sea Grant College ProgramCambridgeUSA

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