Measuring individuality in habitat use across complex landscapes: approaches, constraints, and implications for assessing resource specialization

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Feb 12, 2015
F. Joel Fodrie, Lauren A. Yeager, Jonathan H. Grabowski, et al.


Many mobile marine species are presumed to utilize a broad spectrum of habitats, but this seemingly generalist life history may arise from conspecifics specializing on distinct habitat alternatives to exploit foraging, resting/refuge, or reproductive opportunities. We acoustically tagged 34 red drum, and mapped sand, seagrass, marsh, or oyster (across discrete landscape contexts) use by each uniquely coded individual. Using 144,000 acoustic detections, we recorded differences in habitat use among red drum: proportional use of seagrass habitat ranged from 0 to 100 %, and use of oyster-bottom types also varied among fish. WIC/TNW and IS metrics (previously applied vis-à-vis diet specialization) consistently indicated that a typical red drum overlapped >70 % with population-level niche exploitation. Monte Carlo permutations showed these values were lower than expected had fish drawn from a common habitat-use distribution, but longitudinal comparisons did not provide evidence of temporally consistent individuality, suggesting that differences among individuals were plastic and not reflective of true specialization. Given the range of acoustic detections we captured (from tens to 1,000s per individual), which are substantially larger sample sizes than in many diet studies, we extended our findings by serially reducing or expanding our data in simulations to evaluate sample-size effects. We found that the results of null hypothesis testing for specialization were highly dependent on sample size, with thresholds in the relationship between sample size and associated P-values. These results highlight opportunities and potential caveats in exploring individuality in habitat use. More broadly, exploring individual specialization in fine-scale habitat use suggests that, for mobile marine species, movement behaviors over shorter (≤weeks), but not longer (≥months), timescales may serve as an underlying mechanism for other forms of resource specialization.

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