Research Article: Influence of Green Tides in Coastal Nursery Grounds on the Habitat Selection and Individual Performance of Juvenile Fish

Date Published: January 26, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Emilie Le Luherne, Olivier Le Pape, Laurence Murillo, Marine Randon, Clément Lebot, Elodie Réveillac, Heather M. Patterson.


Coastal ecosystems, which provide numerous essential ecological functions for fish, are threatened by the proliferation of green macroalgae that significantly modify habitat conditions in intertidal areas. Understanding the influence of green tides on the nursery function of these ecosystems is essential to determine their potential effects on fish recruitment success. In this study, the influence of green tides on juvenile fish was examined in an intertidal sandy beach area, the Bay of Saint-Brieuc (Northwestern France), during two annual cycles of green tides with varying levels of intensity. The responses of three nursery-dependent fish species, the pelagic Sprattus sprattus (L.), the demersal Dicentrarchus labrax (L.) and the benthic Pleuronectes platessa L., were analysed to determine the effects of green tides according to species-specific habitat niche and behaviour. The responses to this perturbation were investigated based on habitat selection and a comparison of individual performance between a control and an impacted site. Several indices on different integrative scales were examined to evaluate these responses (antioxidant defence capacity, muscle total lipid, morphometric condition and growth). Based on these analyses, green tides affect juvenile fish differently according to macroalgal density and species-specific tolerance, which is linked to their capacity to move and to their distribution in the water column. A decreasing gradient of sensitivity was observed from benthic to demersal and pelagic fish species. At low densities of green macroalgae, the three species stayed at the impacted site and the growth of plaice was reduced. At medium macroalgal densities, plaice disappeared from the impacted site and the growth of sea bass and the muscle total lipid content of sprat were reduced. Finally, when high macroalgal densities were reached, none of the studied species were captured at the impacted site. Hence, sites affected by green tides are less favourable nursery grounds for all the studied species, with species-specific effects related to macroalgal density.

Partial Text

Coastal areas are productive systems that encompass essential habitats, such as nursery grounds, for various fish species [1,2], including many economically valuable species [3]. The recruitment success of these fish species is highly dependent on the quality of coastal nurseries, which modulate the growth, condition and survival of juvenile fish [4–6]. The suitability of these sensitive habitats is threatened by numerous anthropogenic pressures [7], including massive seasonal proliferations of free-floating green macroalgae, called green tides. This form of eutrophication has spread along many coastlines and has increased in occurrence, abundance and duration worldwide since the 1970s [8–10]. The proliferation of green macroalgae leads to major changes in habitat structure [11–13], water chemistry and biogeochemical cycles [14,15]. These changes disturb ecological communities [13,16] and affect both trophic food webs and ecosystem processes [17–19]. Thus, abiotic and biotic modifications linked to green tides could affect the habitat suitability for coastal nursery-dependent fish species [13,20–22]. The consequences of these changes for fish species are modulated by the composition, intensity and duration of the macroalgal bloom [23,22]. Patchy or weak macroalgal proliferation could be beneficial to juvenile marine fish by providing new food resources and new shelter on unvegetated substrates [24–26]. Conversely, high and long-term proliferation could be detrimental for fish [20,21], probably as a result of reduced foraging efficiency [27], and could even lead to the total disappearance of fish from impacted sites [22]. The modification of habitat conditions caused by green tides and the response of fish communities have been previously described [13,20,22]. However, the underlying ecological processes, especially the impacts of green tides on habitat selection and individual performance for various nursery-dependent fish species requires investigation [23].

Under stressful conditions, juvenile fish implement biochemical, physiological and behavioural coping responses. These aim to first accommodate the disturbance and maintain fish homeostasis and then to limit their exposure to perturbation when conditions become detrimental [46]. Here, the responses of juvenile fish to green tides have been analysed on different integrative scales on three fish species, at both control and impacted sandy beaches. Considering the responses of the studied behavioural and physiological indices, a predominant negative influence of green tides on juvenile fish was demonstrated, with species-specific sensitivity to the perturbed conditions. A decreasing gradient of sensitivity to green tides was highlighted from benthic species, the first and most deeply affected, to demersal and pelagic fish species, which were less affected. Fish responses escalated with an increase in green macroalgae density, from the implementation of an instantaneous physiological response when environmental conditions are perceived as a perturbation, to adjustments in growth and muscle total lipids, and finally the disappearance of the fish species from the impacted site.




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