Urbanisation and Fishing Alter the Body Size and Functional Traits of a Key Fisheries Species

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Gilby, BL
Olds, AD
Hardcastle, FE
Henderson, CJ
Connolly, RM
Martin, TSH
Jones, TR
Maxwell, PS
Schlacher, TA
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Human pressures on ecosystems from landscape transformation and harvesting can result in changes to body size and functional traits of affected species. However, these effects remain very poorly understood in many settings. Here we examine whether and how fishing and the attributes of coastal seascapes can operate in concert to change the body size and functional traits of the giant mud crab, Scylla serrata; a prized fisheries species. We captured 65 legal sized (> 15 cm carapace width) male giant mud crabs from 13 estuaries in southeast Queensland, Australia. These estuaries span a wide range of fishing and catchment landscape transformation intensity. We made a total of 9000 external morphometric measurements in the study. There was a distinct effect of estuarine landscape context on body size, with the largest individuals captured from systems with bigger inlets and lower extent of intertidal flats. Variation in functional traits was most often associated with variation in fishing pressure and human population size in the catchment. Crabs from areas with less commercial fishing pressure and lower human populations in the catchment had the largest chelipeds. We also found effects of urbanisation (negative correlations), intertidal flats (inconsistent effects) and mangrove extent (positive correlations) on the size of some functional traits. Our results show that human pressures can have sublethal effects on animals in estuaries that alter body size and functional traits. These phenotypic responses might have consequences for the fitness and ecological roles of targeted species, and the yields of fisheries catches.

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Estuaries and Coasts

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Gilby, BL; Olds, AD; Hardcastle, FE; Henderson, CJ; Connolly, RM; Martin, TSH; Jones, TR; Maxwell, PS; Schlacher, TA, Urbanisation and Fishing Alter the Body Size and Functional Traits of a Key Fisheries Species, Estuaries and Coasts, 2020