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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14163

A multi-tiered assessment of fish community responses to habitat restoration in a coastal lagoon

Brittany V. Troast*, Linda J. Walters, Geoffrey S. Cook

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Essential fish habitat is critical for foraging, breeding, or as refugia. As such restoration of these habitats has the potential to increase diversity and abundance of fishes. Here, we explore how fish communities respond in the first 12-24 months following oyster reef restoration. Study sites included eight restored reefs plus four live and four dead reefs as controls. Oyster reef metrics (e.g. density, height, thickness) and fish abundance and diversity metrics were quantified, including species richness, Shannon diversity, Simpson’s diversity and Pielou’s evenness. Species composition was explored further to identify indicator species and assess habitat preferences. Patterns of fish community diversity and species composition were compared to oyster reef metrics to discern what oyster reef characteristics best predict fish diversity. Results suggest intertidal oyster reefs were structurally restored and shifted from resembling negative control reefs to positive control reefs within 12-24 months. Across all treatment types, oyster shell height and reef thickness are the best predictors of fish diversity. However, at the fish community level, assemblages at restored reefs were similar to those at positive and negative controls. Species-level analyses suggest treatment types have unique indicator species, including Chilomycterus schoepfi (striped burrfish) for dead reefs, Lutjanus synagris (lane snapper) for restored reefs, and Gobiosoma robustum (code goby) for live reefs. This work suggests fishes can be used as higher trophic level indicators of restoration success, and ecosystem-based approaches, such as habitat restoration, can restore essential fish habitat, thus benefitting fish communities while moving coastal ecosystems toward sustainability.