Fish morphological and parasitological traits as ecological indicators of habitat quality in a Mediterranean coastal lagoon

Almeida, David; Cruz, Alejandra; Llinares, Carla; Torralva, Mar; Lantero, Esther; Fletcher, David H. ORCID:; Oliva‐Paterna, Francisco J.. 2023 Fish morphological and parasitological traits as ecological indicators of habitat quality in a Mediterranean coastal lagoon. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 33 (11). 1229-1244.

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1. Coastal lagoons are key ‘transitional’ aquatic environments for biodiversity conservation. Ecological indicators are useful tools for the management of water resources in the European Union. Among different biological communities, fish are a very sensitive tool to assess environmental integrity. Indeed, their parasites can be used as complementary indicators of habitat quality. Yet there is still a deep lack of information on ecological assessment using fish (along with their parasites) for coastal lagoons, particularly for the Iberian Peninsula. 2. The aim of the present study was to assess the use of fish morphology and their parasite communities as ecological indicators of anthropogenic impact within the Mar Menor coastal lagoon (SE Spain), a Mediterranean area of special conservation concern for European/Iberian biodiversity. 3. Fish samples (black-striped pipefish Syngnathus abaster and marbled goby Pomatoschistus marmoratus) were collected in August 2022 from the Littoral (high level of nutrient enrichment) and Barrier habitats. Physical status (both external and internal indices), asymmetry (level of developmental instability), parasite load, diversity and life-cycle complexity were compared between habitat types. 4. Body condition and mainly the health assessment index were better in the Barrier habitat. Except for pectoral fins in pipefish, the fluctuating asymmetry was statistically greater in the Littoral habitat (i.e. with eutrophication leading to poorer fish development). The parasite load was higher in the Littoral habitat for both host fish species. However, the diversity and life-cycle complexity of parasite communities were statistically lower in the Barrier habitat (a structurally simpler environment) only for gobies. 5. This study demonstrates an elevated potential for certain fish morphological and parasitological traits to be considered as good ecological indicators of environmental health. This could help environmental managers and policy makers to design effective monitoring programmes to detect impacts within valuable areas for conservation, such as the Mar Menor coastal lagoon.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Soils and Land Use (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 1052-7613
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: anthropogenic impact, aquatic conservation, body condition, eutrophication, fluctuating asymmetry, Iberian Peninsula
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 09 Nov 2023 11:08 +0 (UTC)

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