Application of telemetry and stable isotope analyses to inform the resource ecology and management of a marine fish.
Animal movement and resource use are essential considerations for effective environmental management, but they are challenging to quantify in expansive natural ecosystems such as oceans. We used a novel combination of fish tracking with expansive acoustic telemetry networks, stable isotope analysis and integrated modelling techniques to characterize the spatial and trophic ecology of a marine fish species, permit Trachinotus falcatus, and to address specific resource management needs in the Florida Keys. Tracking-based movement patterns indicated that permit remained primarily within the designated fisheries management unit (92% of individuals), but they moved frequently among distinct habitat types and fisheries. Movement metrics from 109 individuals were integrated into Bayesian isotope mixing models, revealing variable reliance on seagrass- versus offshore/pelagic-based energy channels amongst individuals. Variance was driven mainly by fish habitat use and home range size (km2). A telemetry-based regional isoscape, informed by individual-level estimates of resource use (% seagrass reliance; median = 70%, 29%-100% range), illustrated connectivity among habitats and fisheries. Specifically, seagrass flats were highly connected with the Florida reef tract, with frequent movements between these habitat types and a high reliance on seagrass-based prey. There was a distinction between these fish and those occupying artificial reefs, with the latter showing high use of pelagic/offshore (i.e. planktonic) energy channels. Synthesis and applications. This study used a novel combination of telemetry, stable isotope analysis and integrated modelling techniques to identify two distinct ecotypes of a nearshore fish species, permit, in the Florida Keys. Of the two ecotypes, nearshore Florida Keys permit support multiple valuable fisheries; for these fish management should prioritize conservation of seagrass flats as a key permit food source, as well as fisheries protection measures at spawning sites on the Florida reef tract. This study highlights the capacity for integrated telemetry-isotope models to provide key insights into animal ecology that has direct implications for applied environmental management.