Mummichog Fundulus heteroclitus responses to long-term, whole-ecosystem nutrient enrichment

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Lockfield, Konner C.
Fleeger, John W.
Deegan, Linda A.
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Fundulus heteroclitus
Mark and recapture
Decimal coded-wire tags
Growth rate
Salt marsh
The effects of eutrophication on coastal plants and sessile animals are becoming well known, but responses of mobile species are less well studied. Here, we link variation in abundance, biomass, body size, growth rate, and resource utilization in mummichogs (Fundulus heteroclitus) > 40 mm in length to experimental nutrient enrichment in Plum Island Sound, Massachusetts, USA. To mimic cultural eutrophication, dissolved fertilizer was released into replicate saltmarsh creeks on each rising tide throughout entire growing seasons. In the summer of the 6th year of enrichment, we released coded-wire tagged mummichogs into nutrient-enriched (n = 3733 fish) and reference (n = 3894 fish) creeks and recaptured them over the next two months. We found increased abundance (by 37%), biomass (58%), body size (8%), and herbivory (115%, measured as photosynthetic gut pigment content) in nutrient-enriched creeks, although body condition was unaffected. However, individual growth rates were 43% lower in nutrient-enriched creeks. Nutrient enrichment stimulated primary production causing a bottom-up enrichment of the food web, which fostered increased biomass and body size. However, the reduction in growth rate indicates an adverse consequence of long-term nutrient enrichment. This negative effect occurred in the absence of increased hypoxia in these highly tidally (4-m amplitude) flushed study creeks. The mummichog is an important predator/grazer in salt marshes, and nutrient-induced alterations in biomass or resource utilization will directly or indirectly affect lower trophic levels, including benthic algae, thereby impacting the 63 ecosystem-wide response to eutrophication.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2013. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Inter-Research for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Marine Ecology Progress Series 492 (2013): 211-222, doi:10.3354/meps10495.
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