Hypoxia-based habitat compression in the Neuse River Estuary: Context-dependent shifts in behavioral avoidance thresholds

Lisa A. Eby, Larry B. Crowder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

238 Scopus citations

Abstract

Anthropogenic activities in estuarine watersheds alter physical and chemical characteristics of these ecosystems. Increased nutrient loading and changes in hydrology affect oxygen budgets and subsequently alter the spatial and temporal extent of hypoxia. We used classification and regression tree analyses to examine behavioral avoidance thresholds over a range of dissolved oxygen concentrations. In an examination of 10 fish species, all avoided areas with dissolved oxygen concentrations of <2.0 mg·L-1. Our data suggest that the dissolved oxygen avoidance threshold expressed by fish may be context-dependent. Specifically, the spatial extent of hypoxia significantly affected avoidance thresholds. Fish may occupy poorer quality habitat (areas with lower dissolved oxygen levels) as conditions worsen and the size of the oxygenated refuge shrinks. When the entire estuary is oxygenated, fish utilize all depths. During hypoxic episodes, fish are restricted to oxygenated, shallow, warmer areas. This habitat compression may result in higher densities and greater overlap with potential competitors and predators. Hypoxic zones alter habitat use and may increase bioenergetic costs, potentially resulting in sublethal effects, i.e., decreased growth and condition, on the estuarine fish community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)952-965
Number of pages14
JournalCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Volume59
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 2002

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