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Evaluating eelgrass (Zostera marina) as a juvenile habitat for rockfishes : contributions of site characteristics and larval supply to juvenile abundance Jeffery, Sharon

Abstract

Seagrass beds are highly valuable ecosystems with a potential nursery function for rockfishes in British Columbia. Understanding how the nursery value of seagrass habitats differs for rockfish species, and what factors create this variability in habitat value, is important for effective conservation planning. In this study, the use of Zostera marina beds in Barkley Sound by juvenile rockfishes (Sebastes spp.) was investigated. Rockfish have been observed in Z. marina beds by many researchers, however, their abundance and distribution between beds has been shown to be variable. The abundance of juvenile rockfishes in five beds was assessed in 2005 and 2006 using visual surveys. Environmental and biological variables that could potentially influence this abundance were measured concurrently. These included supply of settling fish (hereafter “settlers”), biotic and abiotic habitat characteristics. The eelgrass beds that I studied were found to differ significantly in their habitat characteristics, the abundance of settlers arriving to them, as well as the abundance of juvenile recruits in the beds. Sebastes melanops and S. caurinus were found at the sites between June and September. There was no significant relationship between the abundance of settlers arriving at a bed, and the abundance of juveniles using it. However, many of the eleven habitat characteristics investigated were significantly correlated with the abundance of either S. melanops, or S. caurinus. It is likely that these relationships arose from multiple causes which acted both pre- and post-settlement. Habitat features that were identified as correlates with high juvenile abundance value included lower epiphyte biomass, nearness to kelp habitats, lower water temperature, lower shoot density, and higher leaf width.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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