Title

Shallow water predation risk for a juvenile flatfish (winter flounder; Pseudopleuronectes americanus, Walbaum) in a northwest Atlantic estuary

Publication Date

2004

Journal or Book Title

JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL MARINE BIOLOGY AND ECOLOGY

Abstract

Many small fish, including several juvenile Atlantic flatfish, are most abundant in shallow areas presumable because these habitats enhance survivorship and/or growth. In this study, we investigated size-dependent depth distributions and the role of shallow habitats as predator refuges for age-0 winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) in a northwest Atlantic estuarine nursery. Analysis of trawl surveys performed during the larval settlement period throughout the Navesink River and Sandy Hook Bay, New Jersey, showed that as fish increased in size, depth of occurrence gradually decreased, so that individuals >35 mm standard length (SL) were concentrated in habitats ∼1 m deep. Tethering in structurally simple and adjacent shallow and deep habitats showed that predation risk for flounder (30–50 mm SL) was low in shallow water (<1 m) and increased rapidly with depth. Summer flounder (Paralychthys dentatus), which were more abundant in trammel nets in deep habitats and included winter flounder in their diets, appeared to be important consumers of tethered fish. Our results indicate that following larval settlement, winter flounder emigrate from or suffer high mortality in deeper water to become concentrated in shallow habitats that can serve as predator refuges even when they lack complex physical structures. These results highlight the potential for functional habitat loss when natural and/or anthropogenic factors make shallow habitats unavailable to young fish.

DOI

10.1016/j.jembe.2003.12.004

Volume

304

Issue

2

Pages

137-157

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