Open bays as nurseries for Louisiana brown shrimp
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Previous studies of Louisiana estuaries have indicated a central role of Spartina alterniflora marshes in supporting production of the commercially important brown shrimp, Farfantepenaeus aztecus. Brown shrimp are an estuarine-dependent species and spend one to three springtime months in estuaries as small juveniles, with highest shrimp densities found at marsh edges. Later estuarine and offshore production of brown shrimp is correlated both with marsh area and with abundance of smaller juveniles found in unvegetated open bays near marshes. This paper investigates the idea that open bays are an additional important nursery habitat for Louisiana brown shrimp, with bays possibly supporting the bulk of shrimp populations even while shrimp densities expressed on a square meter basis are lower in the bays. To assay possible differences in shrimp abundances and residency in marsh ponds vs. adjacent open bays, springtime field work was conducted in 2004-2006 near the Louisiana University Marine Consortium Laboratory at Cocodrie, Louisiana. Seine surveys showed similar-sized shrimp were present in marsh ponds (<20 m in diameter) and an adjacent open bay (<1 m deep, 2 km in diameter) and that shrimp were twice as dense in the marsh ponds. Natural C, N, and S isotope tags provided distinctive labeling of shrimp from marsh ponds versus bays; shrimp residency appeared high in both areas with <10% of shrimp present as immigrants from other areas. Widely spaced collections from several Louisiana bay systems and also Galveston Bay, Texas showed that the S isotope tags provided the most general tags for marsh origins, with low S isotope values of 1-9% in shrimp muscle tissue consistently indicating marsh origins. Importance of marshes for brown shrimp production across Terrebonne and Barataria Bays, Louisiana was evaluated with S isotopes using spring 2005 collections. Results showed that marshes supported about 1/3 of total shrimp production; 2/3 of Louisiana brown estuarine shrimp production may depend on the three to four times more extensive open bays. Given these results, coastal restoration efforts in Louisiana might focus on measures such as barrier island conservation and restoration that protect both bays and marshes, rather than focusing on measures that specifically target marshes and neglect open bays.