Intertidal and subtidal zones consist of heterogeneous habitats and dynamic environmental conditions, providing diverse options for fish to take advantage of marine resources. We explored how various environmental factors affected habitat use of an ecologically and economically important tropical marine fish, bonefish (Albula vulpes), on a fringing reef flat in Culebra, Puerto Rico, using a fine-scale acoustic telemetry positioning system. Machine learning algorithms and Bayesian inference via integrated nested Laplace approximation indicated diel period was the most important predictor of bonefish habitat use; bonefish occupied seagrass and mixed bottom (seagrass, macroalgae, sand) habitats most often at night, a deep-water soft sediment lagoon during the day, and infrequently used a shallow coral rubble reef crest. Zero-truncated (presence only) positioning frequency revealed more constrained utilization distributions during daytime and periods of higher water temperatures. Bonefish occupancy was highest in seagrass and mixed bottom habitats at lower water temperatures, and declined rapidly throughout the flat above 30 °C, which is consistent with temperature-mediated physiological constraints on performance (i.e. collapse of aerobic scope). Other factors including lunar phase, tidal state, and tide height had limited influence on bonefish habitat use. Building on a body of research, we propose several drivers of bonefish habitat use patterns amongst the diverse regions and habitats occupied, including predation risk, angling pressure, tidal variations, and temperature-related physiological performance. Our results emphasise the importance of conserving important seagrass foraging habitat through management and restoration.
Marine Biology
Department of Biology

Brownscombe, J.W. (Jacob W.), Griffin, L.P. (Lucas P.), Gagne, T.O. (Tyler O.), Haak, C.R. (Christopher R.), Cooke, S.J, Finn, J.T. (John T.), & Danylchuk, A.J. (Andy J.). (2019). Environmental drivers of habitat use by a marine fish on a heterogeneous and dynamic reef flat. Marine Biology, 166(2). doi:10.1007/s00227-018-3464-2