Distribution and abundance of large fishes (SL>100 mm) in the río Cinaruco, a floodplain river in the Venezuelan llanos, were examined by gill net sampling in four habitat types: sand banks, backwater creeks, floodplain lagoons, and river channel. Sampling was standardized using nets (25 m x 2 m) of three mesh sizes set for 24-h periods. Based on data from >10,000 hours of gill netting over three years, there were significant differences in assemblage composition among the four habitats. Pair-wise comparisons suggested differences in assemblage composition between all pairs of habitats except creeks and lagoons. Differences in assemblage composition likely arose from species-specific habitat affinities. For example, 21 taxa were collected from both creeks and lagoons, but not from sand banks or the main river channel; each of these 21 taxa were associated with particular features characteristic of creeks and lagoons (e.g. abundant detritus). Assemblage structure also could be influenced by predation or other biological interactions, but mechanistic experiments are needed to evaluate this hypothesis. Assemblage composition was highly variable within all habitat types, likely the result of spatial and temporal heterogeneity associated with seasonal hydrology. Long distance migrations by prochilodontids and other taxa contributed to higher CPUE during the rising-water period of May 2002. Data from this study will provide a baseline to assess changes in the abundance and distribution of large-bodied fishes in response to increasing impacts from illegal commercial fishing in this region.
assemblage structure; habitat affinity; lagoon; migration; predation