FCE LTER Journal Articles


Illustrating the value of cross-site comparisons: Habitat use by a large, euryhaline fish differs along a latitudinal gradient


Plasticity in life-history traits and behaviors allows organisms to track spatial environmental variation, such as that resulting from a latitudinal gradient. In estuaries, hydrological patterns can vary greatly with latitude, causing variable habitat use patterns across a species’ range. For Common Snook (Centropomus undecimalis) a large euryhaline fish, seasonal movements between the open estuary and freshwater reaches of rivers have been documented. We hypothesized that the timing of river use by Snook would be driven primarily by the magnitude of freshwater inflow, except at the northern limit of its range where lethal water temperatures may be a stronger influence. Data from electrofishing studies (2012–2016) conducted in rivers associated with four estuaries along a latitudinal gradient in western Florida were compared for seasonal differences in Snook abundance using negative binomial regression. In rivers of southwestern Florida (those in Everglades and Charlotte Harbor), Snook abundances increased three-fold during the time of year when surface waters inundating floodplains recede and force prey into the main stems of rivers. These hydrologically driven processes, and surges in Snook abundance, occurred during spring in the Everglades and fall in rivers of Charlotte Harbor. In Tampa Bay rivers, which have less freshwater inflow than the rivers farther south, Snook abundance differed little between seasons. In spring-fed rivers north of Tampa Bay, Snook abundances in fall and winter were twice those of spring and summer; stable water temperatures were thought to provide thermal refuge at the northernmost range of Snook. This work illustrates how the timing of habitat use by a species, and the underlying reasons, can differ greatly among sites. It also demonstrates the value of cross-site comparisons in providing for a more complete understanding of how a species uses available habitats across its range.


Originally published in Fisheries Research.



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