Movement strategies of small forage fish (<8 cm total length) between temporary and permanent wetland habitats affect their overall population growth and biomass concentrations, i.e., availability to predators. These fish are often the key energy link between primary producers and top predators, such as wading birds, which require high concentrations of stranded fish in accessible depths. Expansion and contraction of seasonal wetlands induce a sequential alternation between rapid biomass growth and concentration, creating the conditions for local stranding of small fish as they move in response to varying water levels. To better understand how landscape topography, hydrology, and fish behavior interact to create high densities of stranded fish, we first simulated population dynamics of small fish, within a dynamic food web, with different traits for movement strategy and growth rate, across an artificial, spatially explicit, heterogeneous, two-dimensional marsh slough landscape, using hydrologic variability as the driver for movement. Model output showed that fish with the highest tendency to invade newly flooded marsh areas built up the largest populations over long time periods with stable hydrologic patterns. A higher probability to become stranded had negative effects on long-term population size, and offset the contribution of that species to stranded biomass. The model was next applied to the topography of a 10 km × 10 km area of Everglades landscape. The details of the topography were highly important in channeling fish movements and creating spatiotemporal patterns of fish movement and stranding. This output provides data that can be compared in the future with observed locations of fish biomass concentrations, or such surrogates as phosphorus ‘hotspots’ in the marsh.
Additional publication details
Simulating mechanisms for dispersal, production and stranding of small forage fish in temporary wetland habitats