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Using winter flounder growth rates to assess habitat quality across an anthropogenic gradient in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

Abstract

We used growth rates of juvenile winter flounderPseudopleuronectes americanus to assess anthropogenic influence on habitat quality at three sites in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The upper bay site, Gaspee Point, had the highest population density and concentration of total nitrogen; human inputs decreased down bay. Growth rates of individually marked fish were measured in three 15-d experiments from June 8 to July 6, 1998 in 1-m2 cages placed at upper, middle, and lower bay sites. Water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen (DO), and benthic food were also measured. Stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon were measured in experimental fish as possible indicators of nutrient enrichment and to identify organic carbon sources. Growth rates were 0.22–0.60 mm d−1, with the highest average at the mid-bay site. Growth was initially fastest at Gaspee Point, but dropped off as DO concentrations fell. Step-wise multiple regression indicated that location (upper, middle, or lower bay) explained most of the variability in fish growth (40%). Coefficients of other significant variables indicated that fish grew faster at lower salinities, smaller sizes, and with decreased time that DO was below 2.3 mg l−1. Benthic prey varied among sites and there was significantly less food and fewer species at Gaspee Point.Polydora cornuta was a favored food at all sites and was found in over half the stomachs. Values of δ15N in fish and sediments did not reflect differences in total nitrogen concentrations recorded near the sites. We suggest that anthropogenic influences, such as nutrients and sewage, affected habitat quality by reducing DO, which lowered fish growth rates.

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Correspondence to Lesa Meng.

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Meng, L., Powell, J.C. & Taplin, B. Using winter flounder growth rates to assess habitat quality across an anthropogenic gradient in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Estuaries 24, 576–584 (2001). https://doi.org/10.2307/1353258

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Keywords

  • Polychaete
  • Habitat Quality
  • Striped Bass
  • Stable Isotope Ratio
  • Submerged Aquatic Vegetation