The role of connectivity and physicochemical conditions in effective habitat of two exploited penaeid species
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The value of estuarine habitats is often measured by their contribution to the adult component of the population, but a broader suite of attributes can also contribute to nursery function. Identifying and quantifying these elements allows habitat repair to be effectively targeted toward improving ecosystem function for desirable species. We present a study that incorporates stable isotopes and quantitative sampling to investigate the relative importance of different estuarine areas for juveniles of exploited prawn species within the context of habitat rehabilitation, and the potential drivers of these relationships. Eastern King Prawn (Penaeus [Melicertus] plebejus) and School Prawn (Metapenaeus macleayi) were studied for two years in the lower Hunter River estuary, on the temperate east coast of Australia. The higher salinity areas near the lower end of the estuary were most important for Eastern King Prawn, and marsh systems in the lower estuary were only important for the species where there was good connectivity with oceanic water. Areas along the estuary were important for juvenile School Prawn, especially marsh habitats, and relative abundance tended to increase with increasing distance along the estuary. Designation of effective juvenile habitat for School Prawn may have been affected by high fishing mortality in fished areas, but this requires further investigation. Salinity, depth, turbidity and distance along the estuary were all important indicators of prawn distribution. The implications of these patterns for current and future habitat rehabilitation in temperate Australia are discussed.
Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology)