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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 349:13-22 (2007)  -  DOI:

Shallow-water refuge paradigm: conflicting evidence from tethering experiments in a tropical estuary

Ron Baker1,2,3,*, Marcus Sheaves1,2

1Estuarine and Coastal Ecology Group, School of Marine and Tropical Ecology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
2Cooperative Research Centre for Coastal Zone, Estuary and Waterway Management, Indooroopilly Sciences Centre, 80 Meiers Road, Indooroopilly, Queensland 4068, Australia
3Present address: NOAA Fisheries Service, SEFSC Galveston Lab, 4700 Ave U, Galveston, Texas 77551, USA

ABSTRACT: The shallow-water refuge paradigm has been globally applied to help explain the high abundances of juvenile fishes that utilise shallow-water estuarine nursery habitats. Despite the wide application and acceptance of the paradigm, there is little direct evidence to indicate that small juvenile fishes benefit from reduced predation pressure in shallow water habitats relative to adjacent deeper waters. The present study employed chronographic tethering experiments to examine patterns in predation potential across a depth gradient (0.2 to 3 m) in the lower reaches of a tropical estuary in northeastern Queensland, Australia. Over 6 mo, 17 replicate experimental trials were conducted, deploying a total of 183 tethered fish prey. Despite the clear and consistent patterns found in the few previous studies elsewhere in the world, there was no significant effect of depth on predation pressure, and thus no evidence of lower predation pressure in the shallow relative to the adjacent deeper estuarine waters examined in the present study. The findings suggest that the shallow-water refuge paradigm may be too simplistic for diverse and complex tropical estuarine nursery grounds.

KEY WORDS: Nursery · Tropical estuary · Predation · Refuge paradigm

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Cite this article as: Baker R, Sheaves M (2007) Shallow-water refuge paradigm: conflicting evidence from tethering experiments in a tropical estuary. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 349:13-22.

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