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Movements of Aquatic Mesopredators in the Florida Coastal Everglades

Left: Jordan Massie with a Common Snook. Photo Credit: Jennifer Rehage.
Right: Common Snook. Photo Credit: Jordan Massie

Project Overview

In South Florida, the allocation of the limited freshwater supply is of constant debate. Stakeholder groups for freshwater include agriculture, South Florida populations, and the natural environment and the ecosystem services that they provide. One ecosystem service invaluable to South Florida is the provisioning of coastal recreational fisheries. This ecosystem service generates approximately 8 billion dollars in angler expenditures in Florida alone. However, the interplay between the provisioning of fisheries and the allocation and input of freshwater to coastal systems is largely unknown. One such way that recreationally important fishes could be impacted by changes in freshwater inputs to coastal systems is through the availability of food. Previous research has shown that seasonal rainfall patterns and freshwater management create spikes in prey availability for important recreational fishes such as Common Snook (Centropomus undecimalis, hereafter snook) and Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides, hereafter bass). These spikes in available prey are restricted to the most inland areas of the estuary.

However, two important questions remain unanswered:

1) How far away do snook and bass move to take advantage of this increase in prey?

2) Do these spikes in prey availability increase the reproductive output of snook?

In order to answer these questions, we must track the movements of snook and bass over multiple years. To track fish movements, we surgically implant acoustic transmitters into the abdominal cavity of snook and bass, and autonomously monitor movements using an array of 41 receivers spanning the headwaters of the Shark River to the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida Coastal Everglades. Fish are captured via electrofishing (a non-lethal mode of capture), immediately transferred to a cradle placed in a holding tank filled with ambient water, tagged, and then held in water on the side of the boat for 5 minutes to ensure healthy release. The data provided by this study offers potential economic benefits to humans and the advancement of science.

Why this Matters

The recreational fishing industry in South Florida is extremely important, yet this industry has largely been ignored in water management decisions. Data provided by this study will be the first step in quantifying the importance of freshwater inflows to coastal fisheries. From a science perspective our research will provide valuable insight to how highly mobile species respond to spikes of prey across a patchy landscape, and how these temporary highly abundant resources will act to boost consumer populations. The value of pulsed resources to consumers has been identified as an important information gap in population ecology.

Lead Organizations


Supported by

  • Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research program (funded by grant from the National Science Foundation)
  • U.S. Army Corp of Engineers RECOVER program

Project Status

  • Ongoing: Array includes 25 new VR2W receivers in January 2022 to replace old receivers
    • FACT Project Codes:
      • SRFCE (tags)
      • SRFCEA (array)


Resources & Publications

Rehage Lab Website (FIU)

  • Boucek, R., A. Trotter, D. Blewett, J. Ritch, R. Santos, P. Stevens, J. Massie, and J. Rehage. 2019. Contrasting river migrations of Common Snook between two Florida rivers using acoustic telemetry. Fisheries Research 213: 219-225.
  • Boucek, R.E., M.R. Heithaus, R. Santos, P. Stevens, and J.S. Rehage. 2017. Can animal habitat use patterns influence their vulnerability to extreme climate events? An estuarine sportfish case study. Global Change Biology.
  • Boucek, R.E., M. Soula, F. Tamayo, and J.S. Rehage. 2016. A once in 10 year drought alters the magnitude and quality of a floodplain prey subsidy to coastal river fishes. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 73: 1672-1678.
  • Massie, J.A., B.A. Strickland, R.O. Santos, J. Hernandez, N. Viadero, R.E. Boucek, H. Willoughby, M.R. Heithaus, and J.S. Rehage. 2019. Going Downriver: Patterns and Cues in Hurricane-Driven Movements of Common Snook in a Subtropical Coastal River. Estuaries and Coasts: 1-16.
  • Matich, P., J.S. Ault, R.E. Boucek, D.R. Bryan, K.R. Gastrich, C.L. Harvey, M.R. Heithaus, J.J. Kiszka, V. Paz, and J.S. Rehage. 2017. Ecological niche partitioning within a large predator guild in a nutrient‐limited estuary. Limnology and Oceanography 62: 934-953.
  • Matich, P., and M.R. Heithaus. 2012. Effects of an extreme temperature event on the behavior and age structure of an estuarine top predator, Carcharhinus leucas. Marine Ecology Progress Series 447: 165-178.
  • Matich, P., and M.R. Heithaus. 2014. Multi‐tissue stable isotope analysis and acoustic telemetry reveal seasonal variability in the trophic interactions of juvenile bull sharks in a coastal estuary. Journal of Animal Ecology 83: 199-213.
  • Matich, P., and M.R. Heithaus. 2015. Individual variation in ontogenetic niche shifts in habitat use and movement patterns of a large estuarine predator (Carcharhinus leucas). Oecologia 178: 347-359.
  • Rezek, R.J., J.A. Massie, J.A. Nelson, R.O. Santos, N.M. Viadero, R.E. Boucek, and J.S. Rehage. 2020. Individual consumer movement mediates food web coupling across a coastal ecosystem. Ecosphere 11: e03305.
  • Rosenblatt, A.E., and M.R. Heithaus. 2011. Does variation in movement tactics and trophic interactions among American alligators create habitat linkages? Journal of Animal Ecology 80: 786-798.
  • Rosenblatt, A.E., M.R. Heithaus, M.E. Mather, P. Matich, J.C. Nifong, W.J. Ripple, and B.R. Silliman. 2013. The roles of large top predators in coastal ecosystems: new insights from long term ecological research. Oceanography 26: 156-167.
  • Stevens, P., D. Blewett, R.E. Boucek, J.S. Rehage, B. Winner, J. Young, J. Whittington, and R. Paperno. 2016. Resilience of a tropical sport fish population to a severe cold event varies across five estuaries in southern Florida. Ecosphere 7: e01400.
  • Strickland, B.A., K. Gastrich, F.J. Mazzotti, J.A. Massie, V. Paz, N. Viadero, J.S. Rehage, and M.R. Heithaus. 2020. Variation in movement behavior of alligators after a major hurricane. Animal Biotelemetry 8: 1-10.
  • Strickland, B.A., J.A. Massie, N. Viadero, R. Santos, K.R. Gastrich, V. Paz, P. O’Donnell, A.M. Kroetz, D.T. Ho, J.S. Rehage, and M.R. Heithaus. 2019. Movements of Juvenile Bull Sharks in Response to a Major Hurricane Within a Tropical Estuarine Nursery Area. Estuaries and Coasts.