Effects of Biotic Factors on Depth Selection by Salt Marsh Nekton

Kurt Bretsch, Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences,University of South Carolina
Dennis M. Allen, Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences, University of South Carolina


Biotic factors such as interactions among co-occurring taxa are frequently cited as important in determining how nekton use habitat, yet their effects have rarely been tested experimentally. We investigated the general hypothesis that depth distributions of five taxa common in salt marsh intertidal creeks are affected by the presence of other taxa. Two experiments were conducted in a pair of large (15 m3), multi-level (20, 40, and 60 cm water depth) flow-through tanks under fairly stable environmental conditions. During the first experiment, when grass shrimp (Palaemonetes spp.), mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), white mullet (Mugil curema), spot (Leiostomus xanthurus), and pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides) were each tested alone, the highest proportions of individuals occupied the intermediate and deepest depths. When all taxa were tested together, the distributions of resident creek taxa, mummichog and grass shrimp, shifted to shallower depths, but the distributions of the seasonal transient taxa, white mullet, spot, and pinfish, did not change. A second experiment was conducted to test the effect of predator presence on grass shrimp depth selection. Neither predatory pinfish nor non-predatory white mullet had a strong influence on grass shrimp depth distribution when tested separately, but grass shrimp shifted to shallower depths in the combined presence of both fish. This suggests that a multiple-taxa effect such as increased disturbance or higher encounter frequency influenced the depth selection of grass shrimp. Our results demonstrate that biotic factors are important in shaping distributions of grass shrimp and mummichog in shallow water habitat.