Active acoustic surveys reveal coastal fish community resistance to an environmental perturbation in South Florida

PeerJ. 2023 Apr 27;11:e14888. doi: 10.7717/peerj.14888. eCollection 2023.


Coastal fish communities are under increasing levels of stress associated with climate variation and anthropogenic activities. However, the high degree of behavioral plasticity of many species within these communities allow them to cope with altered environmental conditions to some extent. Here, we combine meteorological information, data from hydroacoustic surveys, and recordings of goliath grouper sound production to examine the response of coastal fish communities to heavy rainfall events in South Florida, USA, that resulted in the release of excess storm water into surrounding estuaries and coastal waters. We observed a nearly 12,000% increase in water column acoustic backscatter following a heavy rainfall event of September 16th, 2015. Interestingly, estimates of school backscatter, a proxy for biomass, increased by 172% with the onset of the perturbation. Schooling fish density also increased by 182%, as did acoustically derived estimates of mean schooling fish length (21%). Following the perturbed period, school backscatter decreased by 406%, along with schooling density (272%), and mean schooling fish length (35%). Hydrophone and hydroacoustic data also revealed that goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) spawning aggregations were persistent in the region throughout the duration of the study and continued to exhibit courtship behavior during the perturbed period. Our observations demonstrate the high level of resistance common in coastal species but raises new questions regarding the threshold at which fish communities and reproductive activities are disrupted. As coastal land use continues to increase, and the effects of global climate change become more pronounced, more Before-After Control Impact (BACI) studies will provide improved insight into the overall response of nearshore communities to future perturbations and the cumulative effect of repeated perturbations over extended periods.

PMID:37131991 | PMC:PMC10149053 | DOI:10.7717/peerj.14888


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