Drivers of octopus abundance and density in an anchialine lake: A 30 year comparison


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Drivers of octopus abundance and density in an anchialine lake: A 30 year comparison
Duncan A. O'Brien, Michelle L. Taylor, Heather D. Masonjones, Philipp H.Boersch-Supan, Owen R.O'Shea (Subscription Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology Volume 528, July 2020)

Anchialine systems are isolated from the sea and often support species' populations distinct from their marine counterparts. Sweetings Pond, an anchialine lake on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas was identified as a site of high Caribbean reef octopus, Octopus briareus (Robson, 1929) density, relative to coastal populations. However, observed deterioration in local benthic habitat and increased anthropogenic influence over the last 30 years imply that this octopus population may have undergone density and distribution shifts in response to these changing conditions. Here, we assess the system wide octopus density to provide an updated estimate. We hypothesize that despite depressed habitat availability in the 1980s, it will now support octopus densities less than historical estimates because of increasing human impact on the system. Drivers of abundance were also modelled, testing ecological hypotheses of the relationship between octopus count and prey, habitat coverage, and human disturbance. Octopus briareus were found in 7 of 27 of surveys with a mean survey count of 0.630 ± 1.25 per 900 m2. Octopus density did not vary significantly between sites. Octopus count was predicted to increase with increasing cover of calcareous rubble and the density of a preferred prey species, and intriguingly, counts decreased as a function of natural den abundance. System wide octopus density was comparable to earlier studies from the 1980s (1982 = 717.38 per km2; 1983 = 282.59 per km2; 2019 = 643.81 per km2) with no significant difference between years. Given the ecosystem's unique and closed ecological community and the population dynamics and distribution drivers we present, Sweetings Pond has the potential to act as a ‘natural laboratory’ to explore further questions about marine insular systems and their influence on species populations in terms of ecological and behavioural change.

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