Survival and Density of a Dominant Fish Species Across a Gradient of Urbanization in North Carolina Tidal Creeks

  • P. J. RudershausenEmail author
  • J. E. Hightower
  • J. A. Buckel
  • M. J. O’Donnell
  • T. Dubreuil
  • B. H. Letcher


Development in the southeastern US coastal plain generates the need for a better understanding of how survival and abundance of estuarine nekton respond to urbanization. Apparent survival and density of the dominant Atlantic coast salt marsh fish, the mummichog Fundulus heteroclitus, were estimated in four North Carolina tidal creeks using a model simultaneously fitted to mark-resight and mark-recapture data. Rates of weekly loss (mortality plus emigration) were high (~ 10%). Sampling for tagged fish within and outside of study creeks showed high site fidelity to each creek, indicating that loss largely resulted from mortality rather than emigration. Estimated rates of apparent survival were lowest in the creek with the least instream- and watershed-level impacts. This creek has direct (non-culvert) access downstream to a larger waterbody, suggesting that enhanced access by predators and/or greater rates of permanent emigration may have contributed to lower apparent survival in this creek. There was a positive relation between minnow trap catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) and density allowing the relationship between CPUE and habitat and urbanization to be examined in a total of six creeks. The largest CPUE estimates occurred early in each growing season and were associated with creeks possessing characteristics most representative of undisturbed salt marsh mosaics: high percentage of marsh coverage instream and downstream and high percentage of marsh edge. Given generally limited movement outside of creeks, differences in abundance among creeks likely result from different levels of recruitment that are related to salt marsh availability. Priority preservation of salt marsh habitats may be warranted by natural resource planners to maintain abundance levels of this trophically important species.


Fundulus heteroclitus Salt marsh Tidal creek Cormack-Jolly-Seber 



We thank M.A. Dueker, J.H. Merrell, and S.J. Poland for their help in collecting and compiling fish and habitat data as well as computations of watershed imperviousness. C. Pelletier, K. Moore, and C. Hoffman helped collect movement and fidelity data. This article was greatly improved by the comments of three anonymous reviewers as well as reviews by B. Mosher and J.M. Carter (US Geological Survey). K. Pollock made valuable suggestions and contributions to the overall model.

Funding Information

This work was funded by North Carolina Sea Grant Award # R/10-HCE-1.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Supplementary material

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12237_2019_575_MOESM2_ESM.docx (130 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 130 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. J. Rudershausen
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. E. Hightower
    • 2
  • J. A. Buckel
    • 1
  • M. J. O’Donnell
    • 3
  • T. Dubreuil
    • 3
  • B. H. Letcher
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Applied Ecology, Center for Marine Science and TechnologyNorth Carolina State UniversityMorehead CityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Applied EcologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Geological Survey, Leetown Science CenterS.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research CenterTurners FallsUSA

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