The recorded salinity ranges of freshwater, estuarine and marine fish species in Lake St Lucia, a Ramsar and World Heritage Site, are documented. The freshwater group is most diverse and abundant under oligohaline conditions, although the Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) was common under all salinity regimes. Estuary resident species also favoured oligohaline conditions but, in contrast to the freshwater taxa, were well represented in salinities up to 40 ‰. The marine group was most diverse and abundant within the salinity range 10–40 ‰, but a large number of species could also be found in salinities up to 70 ‰. Very few fish species were able to tolerate salinities between 70 ‰ and 110 ‰, with only O. mossambicus surviving for extended periods in salinities above 110 ‰. All the aquatic macrophytes and most of the zoobenthos within the lake appear to die out within the salinity range of 50–60 ‰, thus creating additional stress to those fish present under such conditions. The food resources least affected by extreme hypersalinity are the microphytobenthos and detritus food chains, with detritivorous fishes being dominant when the lake is in this state. Mass mortalities of fishes in Lake St Lucia have been recorded under both low (<5 ‰) and high salinity (>70 ‰) conditions. The fish kills are often triggered by exceptionally low or high water temperatures which affect the osmoregulatory abilities of these species. Hypersaline conditions and fish mortalities under the most recent closed estuary mouth conditions (2002–2005) are reviewed. If the surface area of St Lucia (35,000 ha) is compared to the total surface area of all South African estuaries (approximately 70,000 ha), then the possibility exists that the loss of the Lake St Lucia nursery area for estuary-associated marine fish species over the past few years may cause significant short-term declines in the future abundance of these taxa on both a local and regional scale.
Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries – Springer Journals
Published: Aug 9, 2006
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