Seascape connectivity and the influence of predation risk on the movement of fishes inhabiting a back‐reef ecosystem
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© 2018 The Authors. The mangrove–seagrass–patch reef (MSP) ecosystem serves as the principal back-reef nursery for many reef fishes in the Caribbean, but the functional roles of habitats that form this seascape remain unclear. We assessed ecosystem and trophic connectivity of two common reef fishes (schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus; white grunt, Haemulon plumierii) and one predator (great barracuda, Sphyraena barracuda) in a Caribbean MSP ecosystem using acoustic telemetry and natural dietary tracers. Triangulated positions from an acoustic positioning system indicated that L. apodus and H. plumierii relied on multiple habitats within this MSP ecosystem, occupying areas with more cover (lower risk) during the day and areas with less cover (higher risk) at night. During the day, both species exhibited limited movement away from structured habitats (e.g., mangroves, patch reef) and avoided the primary activity space of S. barracuda in the central channel over sand bottom or seagrass. At night, L. apodus moved into the channel and adjacent seagrass beds on the margin of this high-risk area when S. barracuda occurrence was reduced, suggesting that this species adjusts its foraging activities to minimize encounter rates with predators. Haemulon plumierii also displayed distinct day–night shifts with directed movements at twilight across higher risk habitat to nighttime locations in seagrass. Conspicuous changes in the rate of movement were also detected at different times of the day, and observed mismatches between movement rates of S. barracuda and our two potential prey species appeared to be a behavioral response to reduce their vulnerability. Dietary tracer analysis supported the premise that observed shifts to nocturnal habitats were associated with foraging, with significant contributions of organic matter derived from nighttime locations. Findings from this study clearly demonstrate that the configuration of habitats and spatiotemporal variability in predation risk are key determinants of movement and foraging activities for these species, indicating that an improved understanding of seascape connectivity is critical to the management of reef-dependent species.
complete list of authors
Rooker, Jay R||Dance, Michael A||Wells, RJ David||Quigg, Antonietta||Hill, Ronald L||Appeldoorn, Richard S||Padovani Ferreira, Beatrice||Boswell, Kevin M||Sanchez, Phillip J||Moulton, David L||Kitchens, Larissa L||Rooker, Garrett J||Aschenbrenner, Alexandre