MEPS 294:257-270 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps294257

Assessing effects of diel period, gear selectivity and predation on patterns of microhabitat use by fish in a mangrove dominated system in SE Australia

Timothy M. Smith1, Jeremy S. Hindell1,2,*

1Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010 Australia
2Marine and Freshwater Systems, Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 114, Queenscliff, Victoria 3225, Australia
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: The relative value of temperate mangroves to fish, and the processes driving patterns of microhabitat use within this habitat, are unknown. There are 3 quickly identifiable microhabitats within temperate Australian mangroves: (1) forest (the area of mangroves with trees); (2) pneumatophores (the area directly seaward of the forest without trees but with pneumatophores [aerial roots]); and (3) channel (the area directly seaward of the pneumatophores without gross structural attributes such as trees or pneumatophores). Duplicate fyke and gill nets were both initially used to sample fish in the 3 microhabitats described above. Sampling took place across the seaward edge of mangroves on 10 sampling occasions (5 night and 5 day), in a large estuarine system in SE Australia. Fish assemblages (693 fish from 20 species and 15 families) varied significantly (p < 0.05) between the forest and the channel, and between diel periods for each gear (net type), but there was little difference in the assemblage structure of fish between forest–pneumatophore or pneumatophore–channel microhabitats. Juvenile lifestages (61% of all fish) and commercially important taxa (76%) were common. Abundance, biomass and species richness of fish were generally lower in the forest than the other microhabitats, but this pattern varied significantly (p < 0.05) between diel periods, among sampling occasions, and with water depth. Highly quantitative pop nets provided a preliminary assessment of whether differential gear selectivity caused patterns between microhabitats, but less rich fish assemblages were again recorded in forests than in pneumatophores. The importance of predation in structuring fish assemblages across microhabitats was assessed by measuring survival of juvenile fish tethered in 3 predation treatments (predator exclusion, cage control, and uncaged). Survival rates were high across the predator treatments and did not vary among microhabitats. The variation in fish assemblages across microhabitats within mangroves was not consistent with a model of mangrove structure providing a refuge for juvenile fish from predation, but instead could indicate differences in efficiency of gear types among microhabitats and/or other ‘edge effect’-driven processes such as the provision of food and/or shelter.

KEY WORDS: Temperate · Mangroves · Fish assemblages · Microhabitat · Predation · Diel

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