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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 719:77-92 (2023)  -  DOI:

Relating absolute abundance of an estuarine fish to habitat area in an urbanizing environment

P. J. Rudershausen1,*, S. M. Lombardo2, G. R. Stilson3, M. J. O’Donnell4

1Department of Applied Ecology, North Carolina State University, Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, 303 College Circle, Morehead City, NC 28557, USA
2Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, 2937 SW 27th Ave, Suite 203, Miami, FL 33133, USA
3North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Marine Fisheries, 3441 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, USA
4USGS/Eastern Ecological Science Center at the S.O. Conte Research Laboratory, 1 Migratory Way, Turners Falls, MA 01376, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Organisms that rely on salt marsh habitat are an important trophic link, helping to maintain estuarine ecosystem productivity. We used GIS to quantify intertidal (assumed salt marsh) area from aerial photographs taken in 1939 and from software-supplied satellite imagery taken in 2021 for tidal creeks in North Carolina (USA) that have experienced minor (<20%), moderate (20-60%), or substantial (>60%) losses of intertidal habitat over the 8 decades. The current (2022) absolute abundance of adult Fundulus heteroclitus, a trophically important resident fish in US Atlantic estuaries, was estimated over each season in each creek by fitting a Lincoln-Petersen model to tag-recapture data. Current abundances of F. heteroclitus were lowest in creeks with the lowest intertidal area. The median and 2.5/97.5 credible intervals of the posterior probability distribution for the slope of a regression model relating current fish abundance to current intertidal area were positive, demonstrating that intertidal area was a meaningful covariate of abundance. Loss of intertidal area in the creeks between 1939 and 2021 ranged from 8 to 93%. The correlation between current intertidal area and historical loss of this habitat was negative and significant (Pearson r = -0.91, p = 0.012). Parameters from the regression relating current abundance to intertidal area were used to estimate historic F. heteroclitus abundances in each creek using GIS-derived estimates of historic intertidal area. Historic abundances were predicted to have been on average (across study creeks) 7.5 times greater in 1939 than in 2022. Reduced abundances, and thus reduced trophic relay by F. heteroclitus to higher-order consumers, can be expected in estuaries that have lost salt marsh due to inter-decadal development.

KEY WORDS: Salt marsh · Trophic link · Intertidal · Ecosystem productivity · Urbanization · Habitat loss · Fundulus · Killifish

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Cite this article as: Rudershausen PJ, Lombardo SM, Stilson GR, O’Donnell MJ (2023) Relating absolute abundance of an estuarine fish to habitat area in an urbanizing environment. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 719:77-92.

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