Testing the thermal-niche oxygen-squeeze hypothesis for estuarine striped bass
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In many stratified coastal ecosystems, conceptual and bioenergetics models predict seasonal reduction in quality and quantity of fish habitat due to high temperatures and hypoxia. We tested these predictions using acoustic telemetry of 2 to 4 kg striped bass (Morone saxatilis Walbaum) and high-resolution spatial water quality sampling in the Patuxent River, a sub-estuary of the Chesapeake Bay, during 2008 and 2009. Striped bass avoided hypoxic (dissolved oxygen ≤2 mg·l−1) subpycnocline waters, but frequently occupied habitats with high temperatures (>25 °C) in the summer months, as cooler habitats were typically not available. Using traditional concepts of the seasonal thermal-niche oxygen-squeeze, most of the Patuxent estuary would be considered unsuitable habitat for adult striped bass during summer. Application of a bioenergetics model revealed that habitats selected by striped bass during summer would support positive growth rates assuming fish could feed at one-half of maximum consumption. Occupancy of the estuary during summer by striped bass in this study was likely facilitated by sufficient prey and innate tolerance of high temperatures by sub-adult fish of the size range that we tagged. Our results help extend the thermal-niche oxygen-squeeze hypothesis to native populations of striped bass in semi-enclosed coastal systems. Tolerance of for supraoptimal temperatures in our study supports recent suggestions by others that the thermal-niche concept for striped bass should be revised to include warmer temperatures.
KeywordsThermal-niche oxygen-squeeze hypothesis Striped bass habitat Bioenergetics
We thank volunteers and student assistants who contributed to the successful execution of the field work: Beverly Bachman, Brooke Bittner, Bill Connelly, Pat Daly, Kari Fenske, Deanna Hanks, Pete Ide, Lisa Kerr, David Loewensteiner, Adam Peer, Chris Ruck, Kara Schroepfer, Mike Wilberg, Paine Wingate, and Ryan Woodland. We are grateful to NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office who supported this work through a grant awarded to DHS and RTK (NA07NMF4570332). A major part of the analysis was conducted with the aid of a faculty development leave award from George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) for which RTK is grateful. We thank David “Bo” Bunnell (USGS) for thoughtful comments on the manuscript, and we would also like to thank three anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved the manuscript. The implantation of acoustic transmitters was carried out under approved animal care and use protocols of the University of Maryland. Mention of brand or trade names is for identification purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. government. This is contribution 1936 of the US Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center (Ann Arbor, Michigan).
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