Associations between hydrological connectivity and resource partitioning among sympatric gar species (Lepisosteidae) in a Texas river and associated oxbows



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The middle Brazos River, located in east central Texas, is a meandering lowland river that contains many oxbow lakes on its floodplain. Flood dynamics of the Brazos River are aseasonal, and faunal exchange during lateral connections of the main river channel and oxbows is pulse-like and only occurs during floods that may be months or years apart. Patterns of resource use among sympatric gar species (Lepisosteus oculatus, L. osseus, and Atractosteus spatula) associated with river-floodplain connectivity was studied for a period of two years (May 2003 to May 2005). The first year was relatively dry yielding few lateral connections, whereas the second year was relatively wet resulting in more frequent lateral connections. This study focused on habitat and diet partitioning among the three gar species in oxbow habitats with different connection frequencies and an active river channel site. Overall, 684 gars were collected with experimental gillnets: 19 A. spatula (alligator gar), 374 L. oculatus (spotted gar), and 291 L. osseus (longnose gar). There was strong partitioning of habitat between spotted and longnose gars, in which 98% of spotted gars were captured in oxbow habitats and 84% of longnose gars were captured in the river channel. Hydrology did not appear to affect habitat partitioning, although longnose gar abundance significantly increased in oxbows during the wet year. Diet overlap was high between spotted and longnose gars. Temporal variation in diet was significantly influenced by flood pulses that connected oxbows with the river channel, and which allowed predators and their prey to move between habitats.