Low salinity habitat use patterns of southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) on the Texas Gulf Coast

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Date

2012-08

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Nims, Megan Katherine

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Abstract

Southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) populations have declined over the last 25-30 years throughout its range. With this rapid decline, the sustainability of the southern flounder fishery and population viability of this commercially and recreationally important fish has come into question. Previous research conducted in the Northern Gulf of Mexico and North Carolina, has shown that southern flounder often reside in freshwater for significant periods of time during the juvenile life history stage. Juvenile southern flounder have been collected at salinities below 10 in Aransas Bay (TX), suggesting that Texas southern flounder might also have critical periods of freshwater residency. However, the presence of a low salinity residency period in southern flounder in Texas has not previously been tested. Patterns of low salinity residence were determined using otolith microchemistry, using Ba/Ca ratios to determine movements across salinity boundaries. Water samples were collected from the major tributaries to the area in order to establish the Ba/Ca freshwater signature. Otolith Ba/Ca values revealed a high degree of variability in habitat use patterns among individuals. The mean percent time that an individual spent in low salinity habitat was skewed toward the lower end (15%) but a significant proportion of the individuals sampled (59%) used low salinity habitat at some point during their life. The remaining individuals (49%) never entered low salinity habitat. This work indicates that there are two distinctly different groups of habitat use patterns in the population. This work demonstrates that southern flounder in Texas exhibit different habitat use patterns from their congeners in North Carolina and the Northern Gulf of Mexico and can help contribute to the spatial management of the southern flounder population on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

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