Brackish lagoons are highly productive systems that support fishing and aquaculture activities with important revenue. At the same time, they function as fundamental habitats for the conservation of a number of species that use lagoons for reproduction and feeding. The present study aims at describing the seasonal structural and functional variations of fish communities in the Fattibello lagoon, a small but important nursery ground of the Po River delta (northern Italy), historically exploited for fishing. The fish community was sampled monthly over a six-years’ period (2009–2014). The results were normalized in catch per unit of effort (CPUE) and are expressed both as individual abundances (ind/CPUE) and biomass (g/CPUE). Higher biodiversity levels were observed in autumn, when both lagoon residents and marine species coexist, and summer, for individual abundances and biomass. Biomass was a better descriptor than individual abundance of the functional use of the lagoon. In autumn, the lagoon resident species increased significantly, while marine feeding ground species decreased. Vice versa, lagoon residents decreased in winter, when the lagoon were mainly used as feeding ground by marine fishes. Marine migrating species were present throughout the whole year. Overall, the lagoon serves as (i) reproduction habitats for different species, as well as habitat for the pre-reproductive period for the European anchovy; (ii) nursery grounds for a number of commercial species; and (iii) habitats for lagoon resident species, supporting them for the whole life cycle. Overall, the results highlight the fundamental conservation role of the lagoon throughout the whole year, and that seasonal structural and functional patterns of fish communities should be carefully considered when seeking to harmonize direct uses, such as fishing and bivalve farming, as well as nature conservation.
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