Seasonal fish community variation in headwater mangrove creeks in the southwestern everglades: An examination of their role as dry-down refuges

  • Rehage J
  • Loftus W
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The connectivity between the fish community of estuarine mangroves and that of freshwater habitats upstream remains poorly understood. In the Florida Everglades, mangrove-lined creeks link freshwater marshes to estuarine habitats downstream and may act as dry-season refuges for freshwater fishes. We examined seasonal dynamics in the fish community of ecotonal creeks in the southwestern region of Everglades National Park, specifically Rookery Branch and the North and Watson rivers. Twelve low-order creeks were sampled via electrofishing, gill nets, and minnow traps during the wet season, transition period, and dry season in 2004-2005. Catches were greater in Rookery Branch than in the North and Watson rivers, particularly during the transition period. Community composition varied seasonally in Rookery Branch, and to a greater extent for the larger species, reflecting a pulse of freshwater taxa into creeks as marshes upstream dried periodically. The pulse was short-lived, a later sample showed substantial decreases in freshwater fish numbers. No evidence of a similar influx was seen in the North and Watson rivers, which drain shorter hydroperiod marshes and exhibit higher salinities. These results suggest that head-water creeks can serve as important dry-season refugia. Increased freshwater flow resulting from Everglades restoration may enhance this connectivity.

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  • Jennifer S. Rehage

  • William F. Loftus

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