Fish metacommunity structure in Caño Maraca, an important nursery habitat in the Western Llanos of Venezuela

ABSTRACT We investigated spatial and seasonal variation of fish assemblages of Caño Maraca, a creek in Venezuela’s Western Llanos, a region with strong wet-dry seasonality. Fishes were surveyed over a 19-year period at three sites along the longitudinal gradient: a headwater site with a narrow channel, a middle site with shallow channels traversing a seasonal wetland, and a lower site where the channel has higher banks. Assemblage composition and presence of species with juveniles and various life history strategies were compared during wet and dry seasons. Overall, fish species richness was lowest at the headwater site and highest at the downstream site. During the wet season, however, species richness is greatest at the middle site, a pattern associated with migration into the site for reproduction and use of the wetland as a nursery. During the dry season, species richness is greater at the downstream site where habitat quality is sufficient to provide suitable habitat for many species. Fish movements and population dynamics in Caño Maraca respond to seasonal environmental changes, and the fish metacommunity appears influenced by species sorting (habitat selection), mass effects (source-sink dynamics), patch dynamics (interspecific differences in colonization and species interaction) as well as random factors (dry-season strandings).