Spatiotemporal variation in shallow-water freshwater fish distribution and abundance in a large subtropical coastal lagoon
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Patos Lagoon is located off the southern Brazilian coast and represents one of the largest coastal lagoons in the world. We estimated hydrological and physicochemical conditions associated with spatial variation in the abundance and diversity of freshwater fishes along the lagoon, and inter-annual variability in abundances of freshwater fishes occurring in its estuarine zone. During our study, the region experienced two periods of average rainfall and two periods with above-average rainfall. The characids Astyanax eigenmaniorum and Oligosarcus jenynsii and the siluriform Parapimelodus nigribarbis were the most abundant freshwater fishes in the estuary during wet periods when water levels were higher and salinity was lower. Increases in abundance of these species in the estuarine area, all of which members of primary-division freshwater families, apparently were associated with pulses of reproduction and passive transport from freshwater habitats located near middle and upper lagoon reaches. Abundance of species from secondary freshwater families, such as poeciliids and cichlids, were less correlated with hydrological conditions, and their patterns of occurrence in the estuary suggest active migration from nearby freshwater habitats draining into this area. Findings indicate that freshwater discharge in the basin and expansion/retraction of freshwaters in the middle-upper lagoon determined patterns of freshwater fish abundance and species richness in the estuarine zone.