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Assessing the relative influences of abiotic and biotic factors on American eel Anguilla rostrata distribution using hydrologic, physical habitat, and functional trait data

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Species’ distributions are influenced by abiotic and biotic factors but direct comparison of their relative importance is difficult, particularly when working with complex, multi‐species datasets. Here, we compare the relative effects of hydrology, physical habitat, and co‐occurring fish functional traits on the contemporary (1950–1990) distribution of the American eel Anguilla rostrata in six Mid‐Atlantic (USA) rivers. To do so, we implement a null model approach that compares conditions at sites of known American eel presence to a random sample of sites throughout a broader landscape, allowing us to identify variables that may have the strongest influences on American eel distribution. Results suggest that, within this subset of the American eel's geographic range, the functional characteristics of locally co‐occurring fishes and habitat fragmentation by dams may have the strongest influences on American eel distribution, compared to other predictor variables included in the analysis. Given the widespread distribution and complex biology of this species, we caution that our results may not apply to all American eel subpopulations or life stages. Nonetheless, the observed importance of co‐occurring fish functional traits may inform American eel conservation and, more generally, provide a means to incorporate biotic influences in research on species’ distributions.
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Keywords: biotic interactions; hydrology; physical habitat

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2018

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