Environmental influences on the spatial ecology and spawning behaviour of an estuarine-resident fish, Macquaria colonorum
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Estuarine-resident fishes are highly susceptible to the effects of environmental and anthropogenic impacts on their assemblages and habitats. We investigated the distribution, movement and spawning behaviour of estuary perch, . Macquaria colonorum, in response to selected environmental variables using an acoustic telemetry array in a large tidal river in south-eastern (SE) Australia. Adult . M. colonorum were monitored for up to two years, covering two consecutive spawning periods between September 2007 and 2009. Salinity, water temperature and river flows all had a significant relationship with their estuarine distribution. In particular, large-scale movements were influenced by large freshwater inflow events and the resultant reduction in salinity levels, together with the seasonal cooling and warming trends in water temperatures associated with spawning behaviour. During the winter months, male and female . M. colonorum migrated from their upper estuarine home ranges to the lower estuarine spawning grounds in synchrony, with numbers of individual visits by both sexes consistently higher in the 'wetter' winter/spring period of 2008. Location, arrival, departure and occupation time within the spawning grounds were similar between sexes and years. Both resident and migrating . M. colonorum exhibited strong diel, and to a lesser extent, tidal behavioural patterns, with fish more likely to be detected at night and during the ebb tides. It is postulated that the effect of environmental fluctuations on the distribution and movement of . M. colonorum is influenced by behavioural mechanisms in response to osmoregulatory stress, predator-prey interactions and reproductive activity. The results also demonstrate the importance of accounting for autocorrelation inherent in telemetry data, and for developing management strategies that are more robust to the effect of future climate trends on estuarine fish populations.