Taylor, R. B., Mather, M. E., Smith, J. M., Gerber-Boles, K. 2021. Can identifying discrete behavioral groups with individual-based acoustic telemetry advance the understanding of fish distribution patterns? Frontiers in Marine Science (section Global Change and the Future Ocean). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.723025
Complex relationships between human and natural ecosystems in human-dominated coastalscapes can be negotiated through science-based, data-driven conservation. To be effective for biodiversity and other issues, however, conservation needs to address processes related to field-based patterns of organismal distribution. Organismal distribution patterns in geographically-large, spatially-heterogeneous, and temporally-dynamic field environments can be challenging to identify using existing approaches. Here we show how dynamic-distribution telemetry data can provide a detailed temporal record of how individuals are distributed that provides new directions for a range of basic and applied questions beyond those issues traditionally explored by telemetry. To illustrate the advantages that accrue from this approach, we explored the connection between discrete groups of coexisting, same-species, same-size individuals and patterns of field distribution. We quantified locations of 59 acoustically-tagged striped bass (Morone saxatilis) within a 26-stationary unit telemetry receiver estuarine array in Plum Island Estuary. We then used cluster analyses on spatial and temporal-spatial metrics from this dataset to (1) assess if distinct groups of individuals coexisted, (2) quantify group characteristics, and (3) test associations between groups and distribution (e.g., physical site types and regions). Four discrete, co-occurring groups of similar-sized, individual striped bass were defined by different patterns of spatio-temporal use of physical habitat types and estuarine regions. Thus, our approach provides a different view of spatial distribution patterns, in a geographic area adjacent to dense human settlements, that has relevance to a wide range of ecological, evolutionary, behavioral, and conservation questions relevant to human-dominated coastalscapes.