The role of spatial dynamics in the stability, resilience, and productivity of an estuarine fish population

Authors

  • L. A. Kerr,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth, School for Marine Science and Technology, 200 Mill Road, Suite 325, Fairhaven, Massachusetts 02719 USA
    2. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, P.O. Box 38, Solomons, Maryland 20688 USA
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  • S. X. Cadrin,

    1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/University of Massachusetts Cooperative Marine Education and Research Program, 200 Mill Road, Suite 325, Fairhaven, Massachusetts 02719 USA
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  • D. H. Secor

    1. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, P.O. Box 38, Solomons, Maryland 20688 USA
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  • Corresponding Editor: S. S. Heppell.

Abstract

Understanding mechanisms that support long-term persistence of populations and sustainability of productive fisheries is a priority in fisheries management. Complex spatial structure within populations is increasingly viewed as a result of a plastic behavioral response that can have consequences for the dynamics of a population. We incorporated spatial structure and environmental forcing into a population model to examine the consequences for population stability (coefficient of variation of spawning-stock biomass), resilience (time to recover from disturbance), and productivity (spawning-stock biomass). White perch (Morone americana) served as a model species that exhibits simultaneous occurrence of migratory and resident groups within a population. We evaluated the role that contingents (behavioral groups within populations that exhibit divergent life histories) play in mitigating population responses to unfavorable environmental conditions. We used age-structured models that incorporated contingent-specific vital rates to simulate population dynamics of white perch in a sub-estuary of Chesapeake Bay, USA. The dynamics of the population were most sensitive to the proportion of individuals within each contingent and to a lesser degree to the level of correlation in recruitment between contingents in their responses to the environment. Increased representation of the dispersive contingent within populations resulted in increased productivity and resilience, but decreased stability. Empirical evidence from the Patuxent River white perch population was consistent with these findings. A high negative correlation in resident and dispersive contingent recruitment dynamics resulted in increased productivity and stability, with little effect on resilience. With high positive correlation between contingent recruitments, the model showed similar responses in population productivity and resilience, but decreased stability. Because contingent structure involves differing patterns of nursery habitat use, spatial management that conserves sets of habitats rather than the single most productive nursery habitat would be expected to contribute to long-term population stability.

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