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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 500:175-186 (2014)  -  DOI:

Bottom-up control regulates patterns of fish connectivity and assemblage structure in coastal wetlands

Ben Davis*, Carlo Mattone, Marcus Sheaves

Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research, Estuary & Tidal Wetland Ecosystems Research Group, School of Marine & Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We examined the potential for patterns in invertebrate prey distribution to act as a key driver of fish distribution across a coastal wetland system. Seascape and metacommunity approaches recognise that faunal assemblages in coastal and freshwater systems are structured by responses to multi-scale connectivity and local environmental conditions. However, we currently have a poor understanding of how different groups of aquatic organisms affect each other’s distribution. Most fish in freshwater and coastal wetland systems feed predominantly on benthic invertebrates and zooplankton. To investigate the extent to which these invertebrate taxa exert control over fish distribution, we sampled fish, benthic invertebrate and zooplankton assemblages across 13 inter-connected pools on a salt-marsh in North Queensland, Australia. We found strong and inter-annually consistent spatial concordances among the 3 faunal components, characterised by higher densities of benthic invertebrates and zooplankton in pools at lower elevations on the salt-marsh—reflected by high densities of planktivorous and benthivorous fish, and lower densities of benthic invertebrates and zooplankton in pools at higher elevations—reflected by dominance of fish species trophically de-coupled from these taxa (detritivores, insectivores, and herbivores). Further supporting the idea of trophic linkages, the 2 most invertebrate-rich pools also harboured the greatest densities of benthivorous and zooplanktivorous fish, which in turn attracted the wetland piscivores Lates calcarifer and Megalops cyprinoides. This is indicative of bottom-up forcing acting across 3 trophic levels, a process that is likely facilitated by the frequent tidal connections among pools, which allows for regular redistribution of fish. Prey availability should be considered as a key component of the spatial ecology processes that shape fish assemblages across coastal and freshwater wetland systems.

KEY WORDS: Seascape · Metacommunity · Nursery grounds · Estuary · Barramundi · Predator–prey · Biotic interactions · Tidal wetland · Food availability · Food web

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Cite this article as: Davis B, Mattone C, Sheaves M (2014) Bottom-up control regulates patterns of fish connectivity and assemblage structure in coastal wetlands. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 500:175-186.

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