Hierarchical and interactive habitat selection in response to abiotic and biotic factors: The effect of hypoxia on habitat selection of juvenile estuarine fishes
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Habitat selection is a shared process among animals where individuals choose areas that differ in biotic and abiotic characteristics to maximize individual fitness. We used manipulative laboratory mesocosm choice experiments to examine hierarchical and interactive relationships influencing this habitat selection process of estuarine fishes. We assessed selection among substrate, dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration, food availability, and predation risk using two common juvenile estuarine fish species, pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides) and Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus). For both species oxygen concentration greatly influenced selection patterns; fishes strongly avoided low DO conditions, while in higher levels of DO factors such as substrate or food influenced selection patterns. However, both species strongly avoided predators even when alternative habitat was severely oxygen limited. These results suggest that predation risk may be the greatest determinant of habitat selection of the factors considered. Expansion of low DO areas in the world’s oceans is a major anthropogenic disturbance and is rapidly increasing. Assessing impacts of hypoxia on habitat usage of mobile organisms is critical as changes in environmental metrics including predator distribution and DO levels may alter habitat selection patterns disrupting critical ecosystem processes and trophic interactions. Our results indicate that juvenile fishes may forgo emigration from hypoxia due to predation risk. If similar patterns occur for juvenile fishes in estuaries they may potentially suffer from reduced growth, reproductive output, and survivorship.
KeywordsHabitat selection Hypoxia Abiotic Biotic Predation Dissolved oxygen
Funding for this study was provided by the Texas Research Development Fund. We thank the members of the Fisheries Ecology Laboratory at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for their help with this project. Special thanks to M. Reese and L. Brown for their field and laboratory assistance.
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