Size-dependent response of tropical wetland fish communities to changes in vegetation cover and habitat connectivity
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The replacement of native vegetation by exotic grasses for livestock production is driving landscape homogenization, habitat fragmentation and reducing connectivity between habitat patches in floodplains ecosystems.
In this context we examined how changes in native and exotic vegetation cover, connectivity and water depth affect the attributes of the small [standard length (SL) < 80 mm as adults] and large-sized fish assemblages (SL ≥ 80 mm as adults).
We assessed the effects of water depth, exotic and native vegetation cover and habitat connectivity on the abundance, species richness, body size and biomass of fish assemblages in a 25 km2 area of the seasonal habitats of the Pantanal wetland over 5 years.
We showed that fish assemblage response to meso-scale variation in water depth, vegetation cover and habitat connectivity in seasonal habitats is size-dependent. The gradient from exotic to natural vegetation cover did not affect the assemblages of small-sized fish, which were mostly regulated by water depth, habitat connectivity and the gradient from grassland to forest. However, besides being affected by water depth and habitat connectivity, large-sized fish were also affected by the gradient from exotic to natural vegetation cover.
Our results indicate that transformations in the landscape and changes in the dynamics of inundation may have negative consequences for the long-term persistence of fish assemblages in the Pantanal wetlands.
KeywordsTemporary habitat Effective distance Landscape connectivity Exotic species Water depth Cattle ranching impacts Pantanal
We would like to thank the Pantanal Research Center for their financial support. We would also like to thank the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) for productivity grants given to Jansen Zuanon (Proc. 307464/2009-1) and the Postgraduate scholarship given to Izaias Fernandes. Our sincere thanks to S. Magela, M. Bini, F. Costa, W. E. Magnusson and C. E. C. Freitas and two anonymous referees for reviews of earlier versions of the manuscript that greatly improved it.
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