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Decapod Utilization of Adjacent Oyster, Vegetated Marsh, and Non-Vegetated Bottom Habitats In A Gulf of Mexico Estuary

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Abstract Few studies have compared oyster habitat use with adjacent vegetated and non-vegetated habitats. We investigated habitat use by six common, estuarine, invertebrate species. In order to better understand the species-specific use of oyster and adjacent habitats within the salt marshes of Grand Bay NERR, MS, we examined the abundance patterns and size distributions among oyster, vegetated marsh edge (VME), and non-vegetated bottom (NVB) for three seasons (Fall 2003, Spring 2004, Summer 2004) for the following species: blue crab Callinectes sapidus, brown shrimp Farfantopenaeus aztecus, white shrimp Litopenaeus setiferus, daggerblade grass shrimp Palaemonetes pugio, flatback mud crab Eurypanopeus depressus, and oystershell mud crab Panopeus simpsoni. Three main trends emerged concerning habitat use: 1) the three crab species (juvenile C. sapidus, E. depressus, P. simpsoni) occupied oyster and VME habitats in higher abundances relative to NVB with minor to moderate fluctuations in seasonal abundance. Smaller crabs tended to use oyster habitat (although differences were not significant for all three species) and this may be related to the higher abundance of smaller refuges in oysters; 2) for one species, P. pugio, abundance in VME was significantly higher than in the other habitats, which may be related to P. pugio reliance on VME stems, and associated flora and fauna for refuge and food; and 3) the estuarine-dependent species F. aztecus and L. setiferus had relatively equal use of VME and oysters, which both species selected for structured habitat over NVB and both species were significantly larger in oyster habitat. Additional investigation is needed to determine the mechanisms responsible for the species-habitat relationships documented in our study.

Affiliations: 1: Texas A&M University, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, College Station, Texas 77843, U.S.A; 2: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Office of Fisheries Management, Charleston, South Carolina 29412, U.S.A


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