Fine-scale spatial patterns in the demersal fish and invertebrate community in a northwest Atlantic ecosystem

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The abundance, biomass, diversity, and species composition of the demersal fish and invertebrate community in Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound, an area identified for offshore renewable energy development, were evaluated for spatial and seasonal structure. We conducted 58 otter trawls and 51 beam trawls in the spring, summer and fall of 2009-2012, and incorporated additional data from 88 otter trawls conducted by the Northeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. We used regionally-grouped abundance, biomass, diversity, and size spectra to assess spatial patterns in the aggregate fish community, and hierarchical cluster analysis to evaluate trends in species assemblages. Our analyses revealed coherent gradients in fish community biomass, diversity and species composition extending from inshore to offshore waters, as well as patterns related to the differing bathymetry of Rhode Island and Block Island Sounds. The fish communities around Block Island and Cox's Ledge are particularly diverse, suggesting that the proximity of hard bottom habitat may be important in structuring fish communities in this area. Species assemblages in Rhode Island and Block Island Sounds are characterized by a combination of piscivores (silver hake, summer flounder, spiny dogfish), benthivores (American lobster, black sea bass, Leucoraja spp. skates, scup) and planktivores (sea scallop), and exhibit geographic patterns that are persistent from year to year, yet variable by season. Such distributions reflect the cross-shelf migration of fish and invertebrate species in the spring and fall, highlighting the importance of considering seasonal fish behavior when planning construction schedules for offshore development projects. The fine spatial scale (10s of kms) of this research makes it especially valuable for local marine spatial planning efforts by identifying local-scale patterns in fish community structure that will enable future assessment of the ecological impacts of offshore development. As such, this knowledge of the spatial and temporal structure of the demersal fish community in Rhode Island and Block Island Sounds will help to guide the placement of offshore structures so as to preserve the ecological and economic value of the area. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science