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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 427:275-291 (2011)  -  DOI:

Diel movements of fishes linked to benthic seascape structure in a Caribbean coral reef ecosystem

Steven Hitt1,2, Simon J. Pittman1,2,*, Richard S. Nemeth2

1National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Biogeography Branch, 1305 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
2University of the Virgin Islands, Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, 2 John Brewers Bay, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands 00802, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Many common fishes associated with Caribbean coral reef ecosystems use resources from more than 1 patch type during routine daily foraging activities. Few studies have provided direct evidence of connectivity across seascapes, and the importance of benthic seascape structure on movement behavior is poorly known. To address this knowledge gap, we coupled hydro-acoustic technology to track fish with seafloor mapping and pattern analysis techniques from landscape ecology to quantify seascape structure. Bluestriped grunts Haemulon sciurus and schoolmaster snapper Lutjanus apodus were tracked over 24 h periods using boat-based acoustic telemetry. Movement pathways, and day and night activity spaces were mapped using geographical information system (GIS) tools, and seafloor structure within activity spaces was mapped from high-resolution aerial ­photography and quantified using spatial pattern metrics. For both fish species, night activity spaces were significantly larger than day activity spaces. Fish exhibited a daytime preference for seascapes with aggregate coral reef and colonized bedrock, then shifted to night activity spaces with lower-complexity soft sediment including sand, seagrass, and scattered coral/rock. Movement path complexity was negatively correlated with seascape complexity. This demonstrates direct connectivity across multiple patch types and represents the first study to apply quantitative landscape ecology techniques to examine the movement ecology of marine fish. The spatially explicit approach facilitates understanding to the linkages between biological processes and the heterogeneity of the landscape. Such studies are essential for identifying ecologically relevant spatial scales, delineating essential fish habitat and designing marine protected areas.

KEY WORDS: Seascape ecology · Spatial pattern · Acoustic tracking · Home range · Fish movements

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Cite this article as: Hitt S, Pittman SJ, Nemeth RS (2011) Diel movements of fishes linked to benthic seascape structure in a Caribbean coral reef ecosystem. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 427:275-291.

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