Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Estuaries and Coasts
High-quality nursery habitats support greater numbers of juveniles that survive to adulthood, but characteristics underlying high-quality habitats remain elusive because their productivity varies spatially and temporally and may be species-specific. Fish condition is an energy-integrative measure of ecological interactions, stress, and activity within a habitat, such that juvenile fish condition is representative of the quality of nursery habitats. We apply spatially explicit models to examine patterns in nursery habitat quality of Virginia estuaries based on nutritional condition for Atlantic croaker Micropogonias undulatus, summer flounder Paralichthys dentatus, and striped bass Morone saxatilis. Environmental factors (water temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, and depth) positively influenced the condition of Atlantic croaker but had mixed effects on striped bass and summer flounder condition, despite co-location of these species. Over the observed range of environmental conditions, the potential impact of salinity was 1.7 to 6 times that of other environmental factors. The condition of Atlantic croaker was negatively influenced by conspecific density, indicating local abundance mediates habitat quality. Regional habitat effects on fish condition were apparent after adjusting for broad-scale environmental effects: on average, striped bass condition was 22% greater in habitats near tributary mouths, Atlantic croaker condition was 28% greater in upestuary habitats, and the adjusted mean condition of summer flounder associated with coastal lagoons and the eastern side of Chesapeake Bay was 100% greater than conspecifics from other regions. Not all habitats are equally suitable for juvenile stages of estuarine species, but locations that produce well-conditioned individuals reveal the environmental characteristics associated with high-quality nursery habitats that contribute to species-specific productivity.
Hepatosomatic index; Subdermal lipid; Fish fatmeter; Bioenergetics; Chesapeake Bay
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Schloesser, Ryan W. and Fabrizio, Mary C., Nursery Habitat Quality Assessed by the Condition of Juvenile Fishes: Not All Estuarine Areas Are Equal (2019). Estuaries and Coasts, 42(2), 548-566.