Distinct habitat selection by freshwater morays in tropical rainforest streams

Ebner, Brendan C., Fulton, Christopher J., Donaldson, James A., and Schaffer, Jason (2016) Distinct habitat selection by freshwater morays in tropical rainforest streams. Ecology of Freshwater Fish, 25 (2). pp. 329-335.

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Morays occupy unique interstitial habitats and function as key predators in marine ecosystems. Conversely, there is limited understanding of the ecology of Gymnothorax polyuranodon, the lone representative of the family Muraenidae known to reside in freshwater systems. In this study, we used field-based encounters over a 3-year period in three short–steep–coastal–streams of the Australian Wet Tropics to find that most G. polyuranodon individuals (74%) occupied pools, with very few individuals observed in run (23%) or riffle (3%) mesohabitats. Moreover, G. polyuranodon positively selected microhabitats of slow flow (<0.05 ms−1) and deep water (>80 cm), while avoiding high flows (>0.5 ms−1) and shallow water (<40 cm depth). Morays exhibited strong preferences for boulders (73% of the immediate stream bed area occupied relative to 36% availability) with most individuals resting directly underneath large or very large boulders. Collecting and compiling records of this rare and elusive species over the long-term helped to reveal such habitat specialisation. Future management plans for G. polyuranodon should focus on preserving boulder interstices year-round and maintaining stream-sea connectivity to facilitate a diadromous life cycle.

Item ID: 38618
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1600-0633
Keywords: elusive species; rarity; habitat selection; top predator; insular streams; Muraenidae
Funders: Australian National University (ANU), Winifred Violet Scott Foundation (WVSF), CSIRO, James Cook University (JCU)
Date Deposited: 26 May 2015 23:23
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310304 Freshwater ecology @ 90%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310301 Behavioural ecology @ 10%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960807 Fresh, Ground and Surface Water Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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