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Measuring site fidelity and homesite-to-pre-spawning site connectivity of bonefish (Albula vulpes): using mark-recapture to inform habitat conservation

Boucek, R. E., Lewis, J. P., Stewart, B. D., Jud, Z. R., Carey, E., Adams, A. J.
Environmental biology of fishes 2019 v.102 no.2 pp. 185-195
Albula vulpes, adults, biomass, case studies, habitat conservation, habitats, islands, life history, mark-recapture studies, migratory behavior, national parks, netting, philopatry, spawning, Bahamas
Effective marine habitat protection requires life history information, including identification of connected adult habitats and spawning sites, and movement information throughout those areas. Here, we implemented a mark-recapture study in the Bahamas Archipelago to estimate patterns of site fidelity, and to determine what homesites are connected to pre-spawning sites of economically important Bonefish (Albula vulpes) across multiple islands. We captured over 7000 Bonefish via seine netting, marked them with dart tags, and relied on fishing guides and anglers to report recaptures on Abaco, Grand Bahama, and Andros. Mark-recapture results from the three islands showed that 60–80% of Bonefish were recaptured within 5 km of their tagging site. Across the three islands, mean distance between mark and recapture was less than 11 km, suggesting space use that is tractable for effective marine reserve implementation. We also found that pre-spawning sites housed individuals from multiple homesites that were separated by distances up to 75 km. With these connections in mind, conserving Bonefish spawning biomass necessitates habitat protection in multiple home areas, along migratory corridors, and at pre-spawn and spawning locations. Our case study illustrates how mark-recapture of a C&R species can be used to identify habitats for protection. Information from this mark-recapture study contributed to the designation of six National Parks aimed at protecting habitats used by Bonefish, as well as other spatially overlapping species.