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High site fidelity and low site connectivity in temperate salt marsh fish populations: a stable isotope approach

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>01/2012
Issue number1
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)245-255
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Adult and juvenile fish utilise salt marshes for food and shelter at high tide, moving into adjacent sublittoral regions during low tide. Understanding whether there are high levels of site fidelity for different species of coastal fish has important implications for habitat conservation and the design of marine protected areas. We hypothesised that common salt marsh fish species would demonstrate a high site fidelity, resulting in minimal inter-marsh connectivity. Carbon (13C) and nitrogen (15N) stable isotope ratios of larvae and juveniles of five common salt marsh fish (Atherina presbyter, Chelon labrosus, Clupea harengus, Dicentrarchus labrax, Pomatoschistus microps), seven types of primary producer and seven secondary consumer food sources were sampled in five salt marshes within two estuary complexes along the coast of south-east England. Significant differences in 13C and 15N signatures between salt marshes indicated distinct sub-populations utilising the area of estuary around each salt marsh, and limited connectivity, even within the same estuary complex. 15N ratios were responsible for the majority of inter-marsh differences for each species and showed similar site-specific patterns in ratios in primary producers, secondary consumers and fish. Fish diets (derived from isotope mixing models) varied between species but were mostly consistent between marsh sites, indicating that dietary shifts were not the source of variability of the inter-marsh isotopic signatures within species. These results demonstrate that for some common coastal fish species, high levels of site fidelity result in individual salt marshes operating as discrete habitats for fish assemblages.