Comparing nekton communities between fringing coastal marshes and adjacent seagrass beds

Author(s): West, L.; Moody, R.; Cebrian, J.; Aronson, R.; Heck, K.; Byron, D.

Trawls and fyke nets are common sampling methods used in aquatic ecosystem studies. Sampling by trawls, which can be used to target seagrass-associated communities, is fundamentally different from sampling with fyke nets, which are positioned at fringing marsh edges to passively collect marsh organisms as the tide recedes. Thus, the two methods potentially differ in efficiency with respect to the numbers and types of organisms they can collect. In this study, we use a two-year data set to compare the community structure of marsh- and seagrass-associated nekton among five sampling sites in the northern Gulf of Mexico. We compare four metrics among sites, habitats, and sampling equipment: (1) total nekton abundance; (2) total abundance excluding the daggerblade grass shrimp Palaemonetes pugio, which is a numerically dominant species that may mask abundance patterns of other species; (3) total abundance of blue crabs and penaeid shrimp, the most abundant species after P. pugio and of commercial importance; and (4) nekton community structure. Variations in community structure between these aquatic habitats are discussed in light of differences in gear efficiency and inherent differences in the structural complexity and accessibility of each habitat to mobile fish and invertebrates. Our findings contribute to an emerging understanding of the potential for functional redundancy between fringing salt marshes and seagrass meadows, with emphasis on implications of this redundancy – or lack thereof – for commercially important species.

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