Building Links Between Water Quality and Fishery Resources: Investigations of Feeding, Growth, and Behavior Among Planktivorous Fishes in a Eutrophying Estuary

EPA Grant Number: U915885
Title: Building Links Between Water Quality and Fishery Resources: Investigations of Feeding, Growth, and Behavior Among Planktivorous Fishes in a Eutrophying Estuary
Investigators: Taylor, Christopher J.
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2004
Project Amount: $78,274
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Aquatic Ecology and Ecosystems


Estuaries have been significantly impacted from land use and development within coastal watersheds. Public concern over symptoms of eutrophication originating from intensive agriculture, animal operations, and urbanization has spawned several research efforts to monitor and model important ecological dynamics in these ecosystems. In lagoon-type systems, nutrient transformation and export are dependent on biological processes and faunal migrations rather than physical controls such as water-mass motion caused by tides. Juvenile pelagic fishes are integral members and comprise the majority of the faunal biomass in many coastal systems. While residing in coastal estuaries as juveniles, pelagic fishes respond to the biotic and abiotic environment over a continuum of spatial and temporal scales. Many of these systems are strongly influenced by variable wind stress that can increase heterogeneity in estuarine habitat for fishes. It is expected that exposure to suboptimal habitats, exacerbated by deleterious water quality, can result in sublethal effects on individuals that ultimately lead to declines in system-wide production and trophic inefficiencies. The objectives of this research project are to: (1) increase our understanding of marine and estuarine fishes in coastal rivers; and (2) consider spatio-temporal scales of environmental variability and the scale-specific response of the target species or community.


I will examine the effects of adverse water quality on the trophic dynamics between the plankton and the planktivorous pelagic fishes in the Neuse River Estuary. This will require using recent advances in integrated field sampling and modeling approaches. Field sampling will employ both mobile and stationary fisheries hydroacoustics surveys coupled with intensive water quality mapping to collect data on fish distribution and habitat quality over a continuum of spatial scales. Environmental data will be incorporated into statistical and spatially explicit trophic models to predict fish behavior and abundance as a function of habitat quality. Furthermore, using these models, I will explore behavioral mechanisms used by pelagic fishes in adverse conditions such as suboptimal temperature, oxygen, or prey-poor environments.

The spatial and temporal relationships identified between the environment and pelagic fish populations will provide insight into the higher trophic-level processes that are influenced by nutrient loading and resulting plankton and oxygen dynamics in these coastal systems.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, land use, land management, coastal watersheds, estuarine habitat, estuaries, eutrophication, Neuse River Estuary, habitat quality., RFA, Scientific Discipline, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Aquatic Ecosystems & Estuarine Research, Aquatic Ecosystem, Aquatic Ecosystems, Environmental Monitoring, Terrestrial Ecosystems, Ecology and Ecosystems, plant-animal interactions, coastal ecosystem, eutrophication, nutrient dynamics, estuaries, watersheds, agricultural watersheds, fisheries, fish communities, water quality, plankton

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2001
  • 2002
  • Final