Diel variation in the seagrass ichthyofaunas of three intermittently open estuaries in south-eastern Australia: implications for improving fish diversity assessments
Diel variation in the ichthyofaunas associated with Zostera capricorni Ascherson was investigated in three intermittently open estuaries in the Illawarra region, New South Wales. Each estuary showed differing diel shifts in fish assemblages, which appeared to be related to estuary size. In the largest estuary (Lake Illawarra) significantly more species were caught during the night than the day for all months. In contrast, there was little diel variation in the fish assemblages at Werri Lagoon and Shellharbour Lagoon, although many species were only caught during the night at both estuaries. The distinct diel changes at Lake Illawarra was thought to be attributable to the relatively deep channels adjacent to the seagrass beds which are better habitats for larger fishes compared with the shallow sand bars without deep channels throughout the two smaller estuaries. The composition of fish species within the three estuaries were significantly different, although each assemblage was characterised by large numbers of small-sized fish (<100 mm FL) indicating the importance of intermittently open estuaries as fish habitats. It was concluded that night sampling provided a more complete picture of the ichthyofaunas associated with Z. capricorni. As a result, inclusion of night sampling in fish diversity assessments would increase the chance of catching diurnally rare species and therefore attain a better representation of the true community structure.