Nearly all saltmarshes in east-central, Florida were impounded for mosquito control during the 1960s. The majority of these marshes have since been reconnected to the estuary by culverts, providing an opportunity to effectively measure exchange of aquatic organisms. A multi-gear approach was used monthly to simultaneously estimate fish standing stock (cast net), fish exchange with the estuary (culvert traps), and piscivore abundance (gill nets and bird counts) to document patterns of fish use in a reconnected saltmarsh impoundment. Changes in saltmarsh fish abundance, and exchange of fish with the estuary reflected the seasonal pattern of marsh flooding in the northern Indian River Lagoon system. During a 6-month period of marsh flooding, resident fish had continuous access to the marsh surface. Large piscivorous fish regularly entered the impoundment via creeks and ditches to prey upon small resident fish, and piscivorous birds aggregated following major fish movements to the marsh surface or to deep habitats. As water levels receded in winter, saltmarsh fish concentrated into deep habitats and emigration to the estuary ensued (200% greater biomass left the impoundment than entered). Fish abundance and community structure along the estuary shoreline (although fringed with marsh vegetation) were not analogous to marsh creeks and ditches. Perimeter ditches provided deep-water habitat for large estuarine predators, and shallow creeks served as an alternative habitat for resident fish when the marsh surface was dry. Use of the impoundment as nursery by transients was limited to Mugil cephalus Linnaeus, but large juvenile and adult piscivorous fish used the impoundment for feeding. In conclusion, the saltmarsh impoundment was a feeding site for piscivorous fish and birds, and functioned as a net exporter of forage fish to adjacent estuarine waters. ?? Springer 2006.
Additional publication details
Patterns of fish use and piscivore abundance within a reconnected saltmarsh impoundment in the northern Indian River Lagoon, Florida