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Estuaries and Coasts

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This study evaluated the relative importance of the Narragansett Bay estuary (RI and MA, USA), and associated tidal rivers and coastal lagoons, as nurseries for juvenile winter flounder, Pseudopleuronectes americanus, and summer flounder, Paralichthys dentatus. Winter flounder (WF) and summer flounder (SF) abundance and growth were measured from May to October (2009–2013) and served as indicators for the use and quality of shallow-water habitats (water depth <1.5–3.0 m). These bioindicators were then analyzed with respect to physiochemical conditions to determine the mechanisms underlying intraspecific habitat selection. WF and SF abundances were greatest in late May and June (maximum monthly mean = 4.9 and 0.55 flounder/m2 for WF and SF, respectively) and were significantly higher in the tidal rivers relative to the bay and lagoons. Habitat-related patterns in WF and SF abundance were primarily governed by their preferences for oligohaline (0.1–5 ppt) and mesohaline (6–18 ppt) waters, but also their respective avoidance of hypoxic conditions (<4 mg DO/L) and warm water temperatures (>25 °C). Flounder habitat usage was also positively related to sediment organic content, which may be due to these substrates having sufficiently high prey densities. WF growth rates (mean = 0.25 ± 0.14 mm/day) were negatively correlated with the abundance of conspecifics, whereas SF growth (mean = 1.39 ± 0.46 mm/day) was positively related to temperature and salinity. Also, contrary to expectations, flounder occupied habitats that offered no ostensible advantage in intraspecific growth rates. WF and SF exposed to low salinities in certain rivers likely experienced increased osmoregulatory costs, thereby reducing energy for somatic growth. Low-salinity habitats, however, may benefit flounder by providing refugia from predation or reduced competition with other estuarine fishes and macroinvertebrates. Examining WF and SF abundance and growth across each species’ broader geographic distribution revealed that southern New England habitats may constitute functionally significant nurseries. These results also indicated that juvenile SF have a geographic range extending further north than previously recognized.





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