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Open Access Research article

Fish communities in coastal freshwater ecosystems: the role of the physical and chemical setting

Kristin K Arend12* and Mark B Bain1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Fernow Hall, Ithaca, NY, 14853, USA

2 Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, 47907, USA

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BMC Ecology 2008, 8:23  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-8-23

Published: 29 December 2008

Abstract

Background

We explored how embayment watershed inputs, morphometry, and hydrology influence fish community structure among eight embayments located along the southeastern shoreline of Lake Ontario, New York, USA. Embayments differed in surface area and depth, varied in their connections to Lake Ontario and their watersheds, and drained watersheds representing a gradient of agricultural to forested land use.

Results

We related various physicochemical factors, including total phosphorus load, embayment area, and submerged vegetation, to differences in fish species diversity and community relative abundance, biomass, and size structure both among and within embayments. Yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and centrarchids numerically dominated most embayment fish communities. Biomass was dominated by piscivorous fishes including brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus), bowfin (Amia calva), and northern pike (Esox lucius). Phosphorus loading influenced relative biomass, but not species diversity or relative abundance. Fish relative abundance differed among embayments; within embayments, fish abundance at individual sampling stations increased significantly with submerged vegetative cover. Relative biomass differed among embayments and was positively related to total phophorus loading and embayment area. Fish community size structure, based on size spectra analysis, differed among embayments, with the frequency of smaller-bodied fishes positively related to percent vegetation.

Conclusion

The importance of total phosphorus loading and vegetation in structuring fish communities has implications for anthropogenic impacts to embayment fish communities through activities such as farming and residential development, reduction of cultural eutrophication, and shoreline development and maintenance.