Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 580–593 | Cite as

Fish Biomass in Tropical Estuaries: Substantial Variation in Food Web Structure, Sources of Nutrition and Ecosystem-Supporting Processes

  • Marcus SheavesEmail author
  • Ronald Baker
  • Kátya G. Abrantes
  • Rod M. Connolly


Quantification of key pathways sustaining ecosystem function is critical for underpinning informed decisions on development approvals, zoning and offsets, ecosystem restoration and for meaningful environmental assessments and monitoring. To develop a more quantitative understanding of the importance and variation in food webs and nutrient flows in tropical estuaries, we investigated the spatio-temporal distribution of biomass of fish across 28 mangrove-lined estuaries in tropical Australia. We evaluated the extent to which nekton biomass in tropical estuaries responded to spatial and temporal factors and to trophic identity. Biomass was dominated by two trophic groups, planktivores and macrobenthos feeders. Contributions by other trophic groups, such as detritivores and microbenthos feeders, were more variable. Total biomass and the biomass of all major trophic groups were concentrated in downstream reaches of estuaries. The consistent concentration of biomass downstream, and spatio-temporal differences in the contributions by the different trophic groups, indicates substantial differences in food web structure, differences in the contributions from different sources of nutrition and probably unequal flow of productivity into higher levels of the food web in different parts of the estuary. In turn, this suggests substantial qualitative and quantitative differences in ecosystem-supporting processes in different estuary reaches.


Mangrove Nekton Penaeid Spatial prioritisation Restoration Offset 



Conflict of interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. This project was supported by a grant from the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. We thank Ross Johnston and the many field volunteers whose assistance made the extensive field work possible.

Supplementary material

12237_2016_159_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (149 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 148 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcus Sheaves
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Ronald Baker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kátya G. Abrantes
    • 1
  • Rod M. Connolly
    • 3
  1. 1.College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.TropWATER (Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research)James Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Rivers Institute – Coasts & Estuaries, School of EnvironmentGriffith UniversityGold CoastAustralia

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