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Inter and intra-estuary variability in ingress, condition and settlement of the American eel Anguilla rostrata: implications for estimating and understanding recruitment

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The objective of this study was to quantify spatial and temporal variability of anguillid glass eel ingress within and between adjacent watersheds in order to help illuminate the mechanisms moderating annual recruitment. Because single fixed locations are often used to assess annual recruitment, the intra-annual dynamics of ingress across multiple sites often remains unresolved. To address this question, plankton nets and eel collectors were deployed weekly to synoptically quantify early stage Anguilla rostrata abundance at 12 sites across two New Jersey estuaries over an ingress season. Numbers of early-stage glass eels collected at the inlet mouths were moderately variable within and between estuaries over time and showed evidence for weak lunar phase and water temperature correlations. The relative condition of glass eels, although highly variable, declined significantly over the ingress season and indicated a tendency for lower condition A. rostrata to colonize sites in the lower estuary. Accumulations of glass eels and early-stage elvers retrieved from collectors (one to >1500 A. rostrata per collector) at lower estuary sites were highly variable over time, producing only weak correlations between estuaries. By way of contrast, development into late-stage elvers, coupled with the large-scale colonization of up-river sites, was highly synchronized between and within estuaries and contingent on water temperatures reaching c. 10−12° C. Averaged over the ingress season, abundance estimates were remarkably consistent between paired sites across estuaries, indicating a low degree of interestuary variability. Within an estuary, however, abundance estimates varied considerably depending on location. These results and methodology have important implications for the planning and interpretation of early-stage anguillid eel surveys as well as the understanding of the dynamic nature of ingress and the spatial scales over which recruitment varies.

Keywords: Anguillidae; New Jersey; eel collector; elver; glass eel; monitoring

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: Rutgers University Marine Field Station, 800 c/o 132 Great Bay Blvd, Tuckerton, NJ 08087, U.S.A.

Publication date: 2009-06-01

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