MEPS 177:197-212 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps177197

Correspondence between environmental gradients and summer littoral fish assemblages in low salinity reaches of the Chesapeake Bay, USA

C. Michael Wagner*, Herbert M. Austin

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, School of Marine Science, College of William & Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA
*Present address: University of Georgia, Warnell School of Forest Resources, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Patterns in the assemblage structure of littoral fishes occupying the gradient between riverine and estuarine ecosystems were revealed through multivariate analysis of 5 annual summer seine surveys in 4 tributary systems of the lower Chesapeake Bay. Catch per unit effort of fishes was quantified and environmental variables measured to characterize assemblage structure and population responses along large-scale (km) environmental gradients. Results of two-way indicator species analysis (TWINSPAN), detrended correspondence analysis (DCA) and detrended canonical correspondence analysis (DCCA) suggested the presence of 4 intergrading assemblages of littoral beach fishes: permanent tidal freshwater, lower tidal freshwater, oligohaline estuary and mesohaline estuary. Littoral fish assemblages were ordered along a large-scale spatial gradient between tidal freshwater and mesohaline river reaches during summer, when relatively stable hydrological conditions create a well-defined salinity gradient. Large-scale distribution of these fishes along the river axis corresponded with salinity (and its correlates) up to the interface, and with structural attributes of the habitat (nearshore sediment grain size, presence of submerged aquatic vegetation, woody debris) in the permanent tidal freshwater river reaches. The permanent tidal freshwater reaches were more riverine in character, and were typified by speciose and relatively stable assemblages dominated by resident secondary division freshwater fishes and the juveniles of several diadromous species. Although the resident fauna is certainly derivative of more upland, non-tidal streams, patterns of association suggest distinct ecological relationships may exist for species co-occurring in tidal freshwater habitats.

KEY WORDS: Nekton · Estuarine gradient · Tidal freshwater · Chesapeake Bay

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