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Horizontal trends in larval fish diversity and abundance along an ocean-estuarine gradient on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast, South Africa

Harris, S.A., Cyrus, D.P. and Beckley, L.E. (2001) Horizontal trends in larval fish diversity and abundance along an ocean-estuarine gradient on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast, South Africa. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 53 (2). pp. 221-235.

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The structure of the larval fish assemblages along an ocean-estuarine gradient in the St Lucia region on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast of South Africa was examined using a combination of univariate, distributional and multivariate techniques. The data was comprised of a full annual set of ichthyoplankton samples taken from three types of environment: nearshore coastal waters, surf zone and within the St Lucia Estuary itself. The mean monthly densities of each species in each environment were used in the species matrix, and the mean monthly values of salinity, temperature and turbidity were used in the physical variables matrix. The mean species diversity and eveness index was significantly higher in the nearshore waters than the surf zone and estuary. The patterns of relative species abundances in each environment (K-dominance curves) showed that the estuarine environment was dominated by a few species in large numbers, the surf zone was intermediate, and the nearshore coast was the most diverse. Classification and multidimensional scaling (MDS) ordination analyses of larval fish densities grouped together into three main clusters based on the three different environments. The species similarity matrix (inverse analysis) clustered into four groups at the 10% similarity level. The MDS analysis of the same matrix showed that the groups separated out more or less according to the type of environment they occur in, and hence the level of estuarine dependence of the various species. Species belonging to each assemblage showed similarities with regards to their reproduction modes and/or preference to a particular physical condition. Some species were restricted to one environment, whilst others were common to two or all three environments. The occurrence of partially estuarine-dependent species in all three environments suggests that ocean-estuarine coupling is an important process for the recruitment success of these species. The 'best fitting' physical variable which explained the larval fish community patterns was turbidity on its own, with the relationship of larval densities to the physical variables being species-specific. The present study indicates that a number of factors must play a role in determining the structure and composition of larval fish assemblages occurring in different types of environments along an ocean-estuarine gradient. It is suggested that these distinct assemblages might be considered indicators for the different environments which they inhabit.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Academic Press
Copyright: © 2001 Academic Press.
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