In tropical and subtropical estuaries, gradients of primary productivity and salinity are generally invoked to explain patterns in community structure and standing crops of fishes. We documented spatial and temporal patterns in fish community structure and standing crops along salinity and nutrient gradients in two subtropical drainages of Everglades National Park, USA. The Shark River drains into the Gulf of Mexico and experiences diurnal tides carrying relatively nutrient enriched waters, while Taylor River is more hydrologically isolated by the oligohaline Florida Bay and experiences no discernable lunar tides. We hypothesized that the more nutrient enriched system would support higher standing crops of fishes in its mangrove zone. We collected 50 species of fish from January 2000 to April 2004 at six sampling sites spanning fresh to brackish salinities in both the Shark and Taylor River drainages. Contrary to expectations, we observed lower standing crops and density of fishes in the more nutrient rich tidal mangrove forest of the Shark River than in the less nutrient rich mangrove habitats bordering the Taylor River. Tidal mangrove habitats in the Shark River were dominated by salt-tolerant fish and displayed lower species richness than mangrove communities in the Taylor River, which included more freshwater taxa and yielded relatively higher richness. These differences were maintained even after controlling for salinity at the time of sampling. Small-scale topographic relief differs between these two systems, possibly created by tidal action in the Shark River. We propose that this difference in topography limits movement of fishes from upstream marshes into the fringing mangrove forest in the Shark River system, but not the Taylor River system. Understanding the influence of habitat structure, including connectivity, on aquatic communities is important to anticipate effects of construction and operational alternatives associated with restoration of the Everglades ecosystem.
Additional publication details
Spatial patterns of fish communities along two estuarine gradients in southern Florida