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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 294:79-94 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps294079

Hypoxia-induced habitat shifts and energetic consequences in Atlantic croaker and brown shrimp on the Gulf of Mexico shelf

J. Kevin Craig1,2,*, Larry B. Crowder1

1Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke Center for Marine Conservation, 135 Duke Marine Lab Rd.,Beaufort, North Carolina 28516-9721, USA
2Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, North Carolina State University, 303 College Circle, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA

ABSTRACT: Seasonal, summertime hypoxia (dissolved oxygen ≤ 2 mg l–1) has occurred over large areas (~1000 to 20000 km2) of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico shelf during several years since at least the mid-1980s, resulting in habitat loss for demersal species. To evaluate the effects of hypoxia-induced habitat loss on Atlantic croaker Micropogonias undulatus and brown shrimp Farfantepenaeus aztecus, we compared species’ spatial distributions and relationships to abiotic factors (temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity) across years differing in the spatial extent of hypoxia. Analysis of 14 yr of fishery-independent research trawl and environmental data (July) indicated that hypoxia-induced shifts in spatial distribution result in considerable shifts in the temperature and oxygen conditions that croaker and brown shrimp experience. Croaker, which typically occupy relatively warm, inshore waters, remain in the warmest waters inshore of the hypoxic region but also are displaced to cooler offshore waters. Brown shrimp, which are typically distributed more broadly and further offshore, shift to relatively warm inshore waters as well as cooler waters near the offshore hypoxic edge. These shifts in the species’ spatial distribution are reflected in long-term decreases and increases in the mean temperatures occupied by croaker and brown shrimp, respectively, as well as increases in the variance in occupied temperatures for both species. Despite avoidance of the lowest oxygen waters, high densities of croaker and brown shrimp occur in areas of moderately low oxygen concentration (35 to 60% air saturation, 1.6 to 3.7 mg l–1) near the offshore hypoxic edge. Because temperature and dissolved oxygen are important abiotic factors that impact metabolic scope, these shifts in spatial distribution during severe hypoxia may impact organism energy budgets. High croaker and shrimp densities near the hypoxic edge likely have implications for trophic interactions as well as the harvest of both target (brown shrimp) and nontarget (croaker) species by the commercial shrimp fishery.

KEY WORDS: Hypoxia · Micropogonias undulatus · Farfantepenaeus aztecus · Gulf of Mexico · Bioenergetics · Abiotic factors · Spatial distribution · Edge effects

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