Integrating In Situ Quantitative Geographic Information Tools and Size-Specific, Laboratory-Based Growth Zones In a Dynamic River-Mouth Estuary

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


  1. The ultimate determination of coastal habitat suitability requires the integration of both dynamic (i.e. water mass characteristics) and stationary (structural) habitats. An approach using real‐time streamed data collection, remote sensing, and GIS modelling to compare and contrast seasonal and spatial patterns in these habitat components of the eastern and western distributaries of the lower Pascagoula River estuary is described.
  2. Structural and dynamic habitat characteristics are described using GIS and integrated with published growth data on juvenile mullet (Mugil spp.) and spot (Leiostomus xanthurus) to reveal zones of accelerated growth. Both mullet and spot had their greatest growth when water temperature and salinity (dynamic habitat) were physiologically optimal. The lack of spatial difference in the dynamic habitat between distributaries resulted in no growth zone differences for both species.

  3. The integration of the growth zones with the structural habitat component showed that the west distributary, with its greater availability and reduced fragmentation of main channel marsh edge, should provide a greater area of essential fish habitat than the east distributary for juvenile spot, a marsh‐edge associate. Because juvenile mullet are less associated with structural wetland habitat, growth zones and the stationary (structural) habitat were not integrated.
  4. The approach of integrating real‐time geo‐referenced water quality data with regional fish growth‐rate data is an important step towards a quantitative understanding of the hierarchical nature and inherent variability of dynamic coastal environments. The use of this holistic approach should lead to more effective management of estuarine systems, especially in regard to potential impacts within the estuary's watershed and to its coupling with offshore environments.

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Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems





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