FIELD VALIDATION AND APPLICATION OF TWO BIOENERGETICS MODELS TO EVALUATE RELATIVE HABITAT QUALITY FOR COASTAL STRIPED BASS (Morone saxatilis) IN THE SOUTHEASTERN UNITED STATES
Johnson, Sharleen Parker
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Striped bass is a long-lived species native to the east coast of North America and northeastern Gulf of Mexico with commercial, recreational, and ecological importance. In contrast to northeastern striped bass, southern populations are typically non-migratory and reside in coastal rivers and adjacent estuaries year-round. These habitats have been extensively modified in recent decades, and declines in striped bass abundance have been observed in many southern coastal systems. An understanding of habitat suitability is essential for successful management of striped bass populations. A bioenergetics model can be used to evaluate habitat suitability by interpreting growth rate potential under specified environmental conditions as an indicator of relative habitat quality. A bioenergetics model was developed for northeastern striped bass; however, due to regional life history differences, it was unknown whether the model accurately predicts environmentally-based growth in southeastern populations. Therefore, the bioenergetics model developed for Chesapeake Bay striped bass was field validated for use with southeastern coastal populations of striped bass using data from South Carolina’s Ashley River. Cumulative model predictions of growth, based on water quality data collected in the Ashley River, were compared to striped bass field weights. The model successfully predicted relative annual growth rates and relative season-specific growth rates among three year classes of Ashley River striped bass. To inform management of striped bass in the Ashley River, the validated bioenergetics model was applied to five years of water quality data to quantitatively explore spatial, seasonal, and inter-annual variability in age-specific striped bass habitat quality (growth rate potential) in the Ashley River.