Habitat Suitability Modeling to Evaluate Conservation and Enhancement Efforts for Gulf-Strain Striped Bass in Mississippi Coastal Rivers

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Conservation of native populations such as Gulf-strain striped bass Morone saxatilis is a priority for preserving historic fisheries and maintaining biodiversity. Habitat alteration is thought to be the primary driver of native striped bass decline in Mississippi coastal rivers, so it is a priority to understand current habitat suitability as part of a comprehensive restoration plan. A bioenergetics model is a useful tool to examine habitat suitability by using growth rate potential as an indicator of habitat quality. The purpose of this study was to develop a habitat suitability model for Gulf-strain striped bass that incorporates seasonal and spatial variability in temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen in an index river system along the Gulf of Mexico coast, Mississippi. Environmental data collected with a stratified-random survey during fall, winter, spring, and summer of 2008-2009 were incorporated into a spatially explicit bioenergetics model. Model-predicted growth rates were analyzed by season and salinity zone in a geographical information system framework. Model results suggested that growth rate patterns significantly differed spatially and between summer and the other seasons. Habitat suitability is greatly reduced during summer and concentrated in specific parts of the river system, suggesting the existence of habitat hot spots that are potentially important to population viability. Gulf-strain striped bass appear to be nonmigratory; therefore, high summer temperatures in the river system make upper thermal tolerance the most important factor limiting summer distributions and growth of these fish. Additional laboratory studies on Gulf-strain striped bass' environmental tolerances and habitat use are needed. Nonetheless, this study demonstrates the value of habitat suitability assessment as a tool for fish conservation planning.

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Transaction of the American Fisheries Society





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