Ecology and population structure of the bayou darter, Etheostoma rubrum: disjunct riffle habitats and downstream transport of larvae
The bayou darter, Etheostoma rubrum (Percidae), is endemic to the Bayou Pierre system in Mississippi. Adult and juvenile E. rubrum occupy swift, shallow riffles or runs over coarse gravel and pebble substrata. Habitat requirements of larval and post-larval stages, and the role of downstream dispersal of larvae in colonizing riffles are poorly known. The potential for movement and the high level of habitat specificity for the discontinuous riffle habitat suggest that E. rubrum may comprise a metapopulation of linearly arranged local populations. The greatest population densities of E. rubrum occur in the upper reaches of Bayou Pierre. We hypothesized that metapopulation structure of E. rubrum may include source-sink dynamics, whereby downstream areas are a sink for larvae/early juveniles originating upstream. We tested hypotheses that a transport mechanism, larval drift, occurred in E. rubrum, and that downstream riffles showed characteristics of population sinks. We captured larval stages of E. rubrum in cross-sectional and longitudinal drift nets, and rates of drift tended to increase during the day. Larval E. rubrum (n = 19) occurred in samples above and below riffle areas, with no differences among longitudinal drift nets placed above and below riffles. Thus, larval drift is a viable transport mechanism. Relative abundance of adults and juveniles declined from upstream to downstream, and inter-riffle distances increased with cumulative downstream distance. However, both predictions of the source-sink hypothesis were not supported. The distribution of size classes did not change between upstream and downstream riffles nor did the mean size-adjusted body mass.