High salinity tolerance of invasive blue catfish suggests potential for further range expansion in the Chesapeake Bay region

Abstract

In estuaries, salinity is believed to limit the colonization of brackish water habitats by freshwater species. Blue catfish Ictalurus furcatus, recognized as a freshwater species, is an invasive species in tidal rivers of the Chesapeake Bay. Salinity tolerance of this species, though likely to determine its potential range expansion and dispersal in estuarine habitats, is not well-known. To address this issue, we subjected blue catfish to a short-term salinity tolerance experiment and found that this species tolerates salinities higher than most freshwater fishes and that larger blue catfish tolerate elevated salinities for longer periods compared with smaller individuals. Our results are supported by spatially extensive, long-term fisheries surveys in the Chesapeake Bay region, which revealed a gradual (1975–2017) down-estuary range expansion of blue catfish from tidal freshwater areas to habitats exceeding 10 psu [practical salinity units] and that large blue catfish (\u3e 200 mm fork length) occur in salinities greater than 10 psu in Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Habitat suitability predictions based on our laboratory results indicate that blue catfish can use brackish habitats to colonize new river systems, particularly during wet months when salinity decreases throughout the tidal rivers of the Chesapeake Bay

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