Hidden Components in Tropical Seascapes: Deep-Estuary Habitats Support Unique Fish Assemblages
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Tropical coastal seascapes are biodiverse and highly productive systems composed of an interacting mix of habitats. They provide crucial ecosystem services that support people’s livelihoods, yet key components of these seascapes remain unstudied. We know little about the deep (>2 m) subtidal areas of tropical estuaries, because, due to gear restrictions, there have been no detailed studies of the habitats they contain and the fish that use them. Consequently, potentially important functions and linkages with surrounding habitats remain unknown. Using unbaited videos, an approach capable of sampling the full breadth of benthic habitats and whole fish assemblages, we investigated patterns of fish occupancy of the deep subtidal habitats (2–20 m) in one of Australia’s largest tropical estuaries. We identified 19 taxa not previously recorded from estuaries of tropical eastern Australia, along with 36 previously identified estuary taxa. Three recognisable fish assemblages were associated with distinct benthic habitat types: open bottom fine sediment, seagrass and structurally complex rocky areas. In deep water, habitats often overlooked in shallow water become important, and there are sharp differences in habitat function. Deep subtidal habitats are potentially an important zone for direct interaction between estuary and marine fauna, with a range of consequences for intertidal habitat use and nursery ground functioning. The interface between marine areas and the shallow-water estuary may be richer and more complex than previously recognised.
KeywordsFish habitat Subtidal Seascape Underwater video
The authors wish to thank S. J. M. Blaber and K. W. Able for comments that improved this manuscript, and Claudia Trave for her assistance in producing Fig. 6.
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Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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