Recruitment and connectivity influence the role of seagrass as a penaeid nursery habitat in a wave dominated estuary
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Estuaries provide a diverse mosaic of habitats which support both juveniles and adults of exploited species. In particular, estuaries play an important role in the early life history of many penaeid prawn species. This study used a combination of stable isotope ecology and quantitative sampling to examine recruitment and the nursery function of seagrass habitats for Eastern King Prawn (Penaeus [Melicertus] plebejus), and the processes that contributed to this nursery role. Stable isotopes were used to assign prawns joining the adult stock to putative nursery habitat areas within the estuary. Emigrating prawns originated from only 11 of the 20 sites surveyed. Of these, 8 sites were designated as Effective Juvenile Habitat (EJH), and 5 sites designated as Nursery Habitat (NH). The contribution of individuals from different nursery areas to the adult stock was related to both the abundance of prawns within an area and the distance to the mouth of the estuary, and with the exception of 1 site all EJH and NH were located in the northern section of the estuary. Quantitative sampling in this area indicated that prawns were present at an average density of 165 ± 11 per 100 m2, and density formed non-linear relationships with the distance to the mouth of the estuary, seagrass cover and temperature. Prawn size also formed non-linear relationships with prawn density and seagrass cover. Spatial patterns in abundance were consistent with wind-driven recruitment patterns, which in turn affected the nursery role of particular areas within the system. These findings have implications for targeted fishery restoration efforts for both Eastern King Prawn and other ocean spawned species in wave dominated estuaries where circulation is primarily wind-driven.
Science of the Total Environment
Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified