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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 716:31-45 (2023)  -  DOI:

Influence of climate-mediated shifts in wetland vegetation on prey fish habitat use and schooling dynamics

Julie E. Walker1,*, Christine Angelini2, Andrew H. Altieri2, Charles W. Martin3, Todd Z. Osborne4

1Department of Earth, Geographic, and Climate Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003, USA
2Environmental Engineering Sciences, Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
3Stokes School of Marine & Environmental Sciences, University of South Alabama/Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
4Soil, Water and Ecosystems Sciences Department, Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, University of Florida, St. Augustine, FL 32080, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Intertidal wetlands provide vital habitat for numerous species by serving as a basal resource and refuge for shelter-seeking fauna. These environments are particularly important for transient nekton that trophically link marine and terrestrial food webs via migration into the intertidal during the flooding tide. Changes in coastal vegetation due to a warming climate, such as the replacement of temperate saltmarshes with tropical mangroves, may alter habitat use by transient species due to differences in food provisioning and the structural attributes of mangrove and saltmarsh vegetation. In northeast Florida (USA), Fundulus heteroclitus (mummichog) and F. majalis (striped killifish) are abundant, trophically important, transient fishes that may exhibit behavioral changes with coastal habitat shifts. We experimentally manipulated predator presence in a large-scale mesocosm containing an array of 4 habitats found at the mangrove-saltmarsh ecotone: marsh vegetation (smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora), 2 species of mangroves (red mangrove Rhizophora mangle and black mangrove Avicennia germinans), and sand, and measured prey fish habitat use and schooling dynamics. Mummichogs utilized black mangrove habitat to the same degree as cordgrass regardless of the presence of a predator, indicating that mummichogs perceive both habitats as providing equivalent protection. Killifish exhibited little affinity for any particular habitat and exhibited schooling behavior over seeking refugia for predator avoidance, suggesting that vegetation changes may have little effect on killifish behavior. Further research on how such patterns of habitat use combined with habitat-specific dietary constituents of fundulids will help to predict how saltmarsh loss at the ecotone will influence nutrient and energy flows in coastal food webs.

KEY WORDS: Predator-prey interactions · Habitat complexity · Ecotone · Fundulus heteroclitus · Mummichog · Fundulus majalis · Striped killifish · Marsh grass · Mangroves

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Cite this article as: Walker JE, Angelini C, Altieri AH, Martin CW, Osborne TZ (2023) Influence of climate-mediated shifts in wetland vegetation on prey fish habitat use and schooling dynamics. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 716:31-45.

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