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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 533:29-46 (2015)  -  DOI:

Ecological linkages in a Caribbean estuary bay

H. Andrade1,2,*, J. Santos1, M. J. Ixquiac3

1Norwegian College of Fishery Science, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway
2Akvaplan-niva AS, Framsenteret, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
3Centro de Estudios del Mar y Acuicultura, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, Guatemala 01012, Guatemala
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Central America and the western Caribbean regions form a center of freshwater and marine biodiversity that is increasingly becoming the focus of ecological and evolutionary studies. We conducted an integrated ecological study of Amatique Bay, Guatemala, a major estuary lagoon connected to the low-lying Lake Izabal and to the Mesoamerican Reef System, and provide novel information for the management and conservation of similar systems across the Caribbean. Precipitation and wind regimes constitute important environmental drivers of ecosystem functioning, which partially compensate for the weak tidal-forcing that is characteristic of the Caribbean Sea. Seasonal peaks in temperature and precipitation were strongly correlated to the reproduction of marine, catadromous and estuarine fish species, suggesting that the ensuing increase in primary production provides larval fish with an abundant food source. Increased abundances of transient marine species were observed during the dry season, which may be explained by passive transport, feeding migration, or both, considering that prey may be more abundant inshore and that environmental conditions are dominated by higher salinity and stronger onshore winds during this period. Despite being a stopover site for many long-range migrating shorebird species, the Bay serves primarily as a resting place since it lacks extensive tides and tidal flats, and thus provides limited access to invertebrate prey. Furthermore, this sheltered environment, featuring abundant freshwater, seasonally high water clarity, and low tidal amplitude, is likely to provide good habitat for abundant seagrasses and manatees. The Lake Izabal-Amatique Bay complex demonstrates a wide range of teleconnections and connectivity among terrestrial, freshwater, and marine oceanic and reef ecosystems. Understanding the evolution and ecology underlying this highly connected system is required for the management of the multi-trophic, small-scale fisheries it sustains.

KEY WORDS: Fisheries · Migratory shorebirds · Manatee · Life history · Environmental drivers · Tropical conservation · Evolution · Central America

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Cite this article as: Andrade H, Santos J, Ixquiac MJ (2015) Ecological linkages in a Caribbean estuary bay. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 533:29-46.

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