Marine Biology

, 166:18 | Cite as

Environmental drivers of habitat use by a marine fish on a heterogeneous and dynamic reef flat

  • Jacob W. BrownscombeEmail author
  • Lucas P. Griffin
  • Tyler O. Gagne
  • Christopher R. Haak
  • Steven J. Cooke
  • John T. Finn
  • Andy J. Danylchuk
Original Paper


Intertidal and subtidal zones consist of heterogeneous habitats and dynamic environmental conditions, providing diverse options for fish to take advantage of marine resources. We explored how various environmental factors affected habitat use of an ecologically and economically important tropical marine fish, bonefish (Albula vulpes), on a fringing reef flat in Culebra, Puerto Rico, using a fine-scale acoustic telemetry positioning system. Machine learning algorithms and Bayesian inference via integrated nested Laplace approximation indicated diel period was the most important predictor of bonefish habitat use; bonefish occupied seagrass and mixed bottom (seagrass, macroalgae, sand) habitats most often at night, a deep-water soft sediment lagoon during the day, and infrequently used a shallow coral rubble reef crest. Zero-truncated (presence only) positioning frequency revealed more constrained utilization distributions during daytime and periods of higher water temperatures. Bonefish occupancy was highest in seagrass and mixed bottom habitats at lower water temperatures, and declined rapidly throughout the flat above 30 °C, which is consistent with temperature-mediated physiological constraints on performance (i.e. collapse of aerobic scope). Other factors including lunar phase, tidal state, and tide height had limited influence on bonefish habitat use. Building on a body of research, we propose several drivers of bonefish habitat use patterns amongst the diverse regions and habitats occupied, including predation risk, angling pressure, tidal variations, and temperature-related physiological performance. Our results emphasise the importance of conserving important seagrass foraging habitat through management and restoration.



We thank Dr. Craig Lilyestrom (Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico), Ricardo Colón-Merced, and Ana Roman (Culebra National Wildlife Refuges, US Fish and Wildlife Service), Capt. Chris Goldmark, Sammy Hernandez, Zorida Mendez, Henry Cruz, Sarah Becker, and Karl Anderson for their logistical support, and Temple Fork Outfitters, RIO Products, Costa Sunglasses, Patagonia Inc., Moldy Chum, and Umpqua Feather Merchants for their support. Thank you to the three reviewers and Editor, Dr. Ewan Hunter, for providing constructive feedback on this publication.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical standards

Brownscombe is supported by a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship and Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. This research was supported by the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant Program awarded to A. J. Danylchuk, and J. Finn. Cooke was supported by NSERC and the Canada Research Chairs program. Additional funding for transmitters was provided by Brian Bennett, Brooks Patterson, Temple Fork Outfitters, and RIO Products. The authors have no conflicts of interest. All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for sampling, care, and experimental use of organisms for this study have been followed and all necessary approvals have been obtained. All procedures performed on bonefish were conducted in accordance with the Carleton University Animal Care Committee (application 11473), as well as the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (IACUC protocol 2013-0031, University of Massachusetts Amherst). All research activities were conducted under a Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources research permit #2-14-IC-034.

Supplementary material

227_2018_3464_MOESM1_ESM.docx (10.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 10894 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology LaboratoryOttawa-Carleton Institute for Biology, Carleton UniversityOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Environmental ConservationUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA

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