Small-bodied fishes constitute an important assemblage in many wetlands. In wetlands that dry periodically except for small permanent waterbodies, these fishes are quick to respond to change and can undergo large fluctuations in numbers and biomasses. An important aspect of landscapes that are mixtures of marsh and permanent waterbodies is that high rates of biomass production occur in the marshes during flooding phases, while the permanent waterbodies serve as refuges for many biotic components during the dry phases. The temporal and spatial dynamics of the small fishes are ecologically important, as these fishes provide a crucial food base for higher trophic levels, such as wading birds. We develop a simple model that is analytically tractable, describing the main processes of the spatio-temporal dynamics of a population of small-bodied fish in a seasonal wetland environment, consisting of marsh and permanent waterbodies. The population expands into newly flooded areas during the wet season and contracts during declining water levels in the dry season. If the marsh dries completely during these times (a drydown), the fish need refuge in permanent waterbodies. At least three new and general conclusions arise from the model: (1) there is an optimal rate at which fish should expand into a newly flooding area to maximize population production; (2) there is also a fluctuation amplitude of water level that maximizes fish production, and (3) there is an upper limit on the number of fish that can reach a permanent waterbody during a drydown, no matter how large the marsh surface area is that drains into the waterbody. Because water levels can be manipulated in many wetlands, it is useful to have an understanding of the role of these fluctuations.
Additional publication details
Modeling seasonal dynamics of the small fish cohorts in fluctuating freshwater marsh landscapes