Modification of saltmarsh for mosquito control in Australia alters habitat use by nekton
The most common modification of saltmarsh habitat for mosquito control in Australia is runnelling, a system of shallow channels increasing seawater exchange in pools high on the marsh. Local effects within the immediate vicinity of runnels were examined by testing the hypothesis that fish assemblages immediately alongside runnels differ from those further away. Nekton assemblages were sampled using pop nets in winter (May) and summer (December) on a saltmarsh in southeast Queensland, alongside runnels and further (30 m) away, at two distances from a mangrove-lined intertidal creek. Nekton assemblages were dominated numerically (50-80%) by one or two species of small fish (Ambassis marianus, Mugilogobius stigmaticus), and a commercially important prawn, Fenneropenaeus merguiensis. In winter, nekton assemblages alongside runnels were significantly different from those further away. Species richness, total nekton densities and densities of several individual species were higher away from runnels, but only at sites far from the creek. No differences in species richness or densities were found in summer. During both periods, nekton assemblages differed strongly with distance from the creek, with more species and higher densities of most species near the creek. For most species, the overall effect of runnelling appears to be a reduction in abundances in the immediate vicinity of runnels, at some times of year. This is probably related to lower prey availability near runnels. Given the extent of runnelling in some parts of Australia, even this local reduction in densities extending no more than 30 m from runnels means that nekton may be adversely affected over a large total area. The apparent influence of runnels on nekton densities highlights the potential effects of saltmarsh modification on non-target animals that should be considered as this management technique becomes more prevalent.
Wetlands Ecology and Management
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