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Troubled waters: Low Apalachicola River flow may hurt gulf fisheries
Date:6/19/2009

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Reductions in the flow of the Apalachicola River have far-reaching effects that could prove detrimental to grouper and other reef fish populations in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, according to a new Florida State University study that may provide new ammunition for states engaged in a nearly two-decade water war.

The Florida State researchers found that in years with low river flow, the concentration of phytoplankton -- the microscopic plant-like organisms that feed into the food chain -- decreased over a large area of the continental shelf. This is significant because scientists have hypothesized that year-to-year changes in the phytoplankton can alter the availability of food for the very young fish larvae, according to research scientist Steven Morey of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) at Florida State.

Though much of the scientific research examining the consequences of low-flow conditions, primarily caused by extended drought in recent years, has focused on the Apalachicola River and the estuary system of Apalachicola Bay, the Florida State researchers instead examined the effect of unusually low and high flows over the wide western Florida continental shelf. A number of important reef fish, such as grouper, spawn on the outer shelf edge and use the inner shelf areas as nursery habitat.

"This work shows that variations in the river flow can have implications on marine ecosystems over a much broader geographic region, namely much of the continental shelf extending out several hundred miles," Morey said. "This now suggests that there might be a link between the river flow variations and offshore fisheries."

Morey, Dmitry Dukhovskoy, also of COAPS, and Mark Bourassa, an associate professor of meteorology at FSU, examined the seasonal and year-to-year variability of the river flow caused by changes in precipitation over the watershed encompassing much of western Georgia an
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Contact: Steven Morey
morey@coaps.fsu.edu
850-644-0345
Florida State University
Source:Eurekalert

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