Effects of 1997-1998 El Nino on the dynamics of the shallow-water fish assemblage of the Patos Lagoon Estuary (Brazil)
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High rainfall associated with El Nio events significantly increases runoff and stream discharge in southern Brazil. High freshwater discharge changes salinity, temperature, and water circulation patterns that can affect the fish estuarine assemblage. Using long-term data obtained from standardized surveys, we analyzed fish assemblage structure and dynamics in shallow waters of the Patos Lagoon estuary in southern Brazil before, during, and after the 1997-1998 El Nio event. Overall, the relative abundance of all the fish groups in the estuary was about five times lower during the El Nio than before and after. Freshwater vagrants were the only group with greater abundance during El Nio. Fish species richness was higher in the estuary during the El Nio event, when many freshwater species expanded their ranges into the Patos Lagoon estuary, than before or after the El Nio. El Nio-induced assemblage changes were not highly persistent, and the estuarine fish assemblage returned to its pre-El Nio state within 18 months after the El Nio period. Densities of many marine and estuarine fishes increased to pre-El Nio levels within 3-6 months of the end of the El Nio period. We suggested that the rapid recovery of fish estuarine populations after the 1997-1998 El Nio may have been caused by one or some combination of: (a) enhanced productivity stimulated by nutrients contained in newly deposited alluvial sediments, and (b) enhanced larvae transport in the large saltwater intrusion that followed the El Nio event. Clearly, fish population dynamics and assemblage structure of the Patos Lagoon estuary can neither be interpreted nor predicted on a long-term basis without explicit consideration of El Nio Southern Oscillation patterns. 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.