Drivers of estuarine finfish assemblage structure: a case study of South Carolina estuaries

dc.contributor.authorBullard, Elizabeth Alyson
dc.description.abstractResearchers describe the structure of estuarine finfish communities by assessing diversity, community composition, and conducting species-level analyses. These metrics are used to evaluate spatial (and temporal) differences. Understanding how these communities correlate with abiotic and biotic factors gives insight into specific drivers of differences in species composition. Since 2010, researchers with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) have sampled marine organisms throughout salt marsh estuaries in South Carolina, USA, using three long-term monitoring surveys: trammel net, estuarine trawl, and adult red drum & shark longline surveys. This study leverages community data collected from those surveys to investigate spatial differences in finfish community structure across South Carolina’s estuaries using multiple metrics. Seven available environmental factors were assessed with each survey collection to identify drivers of community differences and provide a mechanistic understanding of similarities and differences amongst estuaries. Differences in alpha diversity were not detected among estuaries, but differences arose within each survey type when assessing community composition, within-estuary beta diversity, and indicator species. Results emphasize the uniqueness of otherwise similar estuaries. While all available environmental factors were seen to influence community differences at some level of analysis, impervious cover, access to deep water, and oyster area were consistently detected as the primary drivers through correlation assessments and constrained ordinations. Description of South Carolina estuarine finfish communities and identification of the disparate drivers of community structure across estuaries will allow researchers to develop a baseline for community understanding in these areas and to begin to assess the ecological importance of natural and anthropogenic factors on South Carolina’s estuarine environments.
dc.titleDrivers of estuarine finfish assemblage structure: a case study of South Carolina estuaries