Variation in Habitat use by Juvenile Acadian Redfish, Sebastes fasciatus
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A basic paradigm in behavioral ecology is that organisms expand their distribution as preferred sites become saturated with individuals that reduce the availability of resources (e.g., shelter, prey) on a per capita basis. Previous fish community studies at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary have shown that juvenile Acadian redfish Sebastes fasciatus (<20 cm total length; TL) were primarily associated with boulder reefs that have deep interstices amongst the boulders; and that redfish expanded their distribution to adjacent gravel habitats when local abundance on reefs was high. Multibeam and sidescan sonar surveys in Stellwagen Basin (primarily a cohesive mud seafloor) have shown that discrete small areas of the basin floor are composed of mud draped gravel and partially buried boulders. Linear video transects using remotely operated vehicles and a video/photographic equipped grab sampler across five of these sites in 1997 showed that exposed boulders do not have crevices along their lower margins and are surrounded by dense patches of cerianthid anemones, Cerianthus borealis. These anemone patches are not present on the surrounding mud seafloor. Video image data showed that late juvenile redfish (11–20 cm TL) occurred on boulder reefs as well as in the dense cerianthid patches but not on unstructured mud habitat (without cerianthid anemones). Comparisons of boulder reef and cerianthid habitats in 1998 showed that early demersal phase (0-year) redfish (0–10 cm TL) occurred only on reefs but late juveniles occurred both on the reefs and in dense cerianthid habitats. Adult size classes (>20 cm TL) also occurred in dense cerianthid habitats. Two explanations for these distributions can be advanced. The simplest is that redfish use both boulder and cerianthid habitats on an encounter basis, regardless of habitat saturation or predation pressure. Alternatively, boulder reefs serve as recruitment habitats and cerianthid habitats serve as a conduit for redfish moving away from saturated boulder reef sites, essentially serving as elements of a 'redfish pump'.
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