Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2010-14


Population density, survival and movement of blue crabs in estuarine salt marsh nurseries.




Johnson, EG; Eggleston, DB


Marine Ecology Progress Series 407:135-150




The importance of a broad suite of complex structured habitats as nurseries for estuarine fauna is well recognized. In contrast, recent evidence indicates the nursery value of salt marshes and contiguous unvegetated mud flats for blue crabs are underestimated. To assess the nursery value of salt marsh tidal creeks for the blue crab Callinectes sapidus in coastal North Carolina, USA, we quantified population density, survival and movement patterns of juvenile blue crabs in 2 tidal salt marsh creeks during summer and fall. Survival rates of blue crab juveniles were high (0.98 d-1) and similar in both creek systems. Juvenile crabs exhibited a high degree of site fidelity to a given marsh creek during summer-fall, suggesting that losses were predominantly due to mortality, not emigration. Our study provides critical information on the demographic processes underlying the importance of salt marshes as nurseries for estuarine-dependent species, and was novel in that it: (1) measured density, survival and emigration concurrently; and (2) enabled the identification of individuals, which allowed for the assessment of the relationship between blue crab size, survival and capture probability. We conclude that the observed patterns of abundance, survival and habitat utilization of blue crabs within tidal salt marsh creeks in North Carolina are consistent with the hypothesis that salt marsh creeks are important nurseries for blue crabs. Further, the relatively high use of the marsh surface by juvenile blue crabs, combined with a general lack of directed sampling within these complex habitats, suggests that crab densities may be even higher in salt marshes than previously thought.

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