Nekton populations, long-term wetland loss, and the effect of recent habitat restoration in Galveston Bay, Texas, USA
We used data from 1984 samples taken approximately monthly over 11 yr (1982 to 1992) with a 2.6 m super(2) drop sampler to quantify and compare nekton densities in Spartina alterniflora marsh edge and over adjacent shallow nonvegetated bottom (SNB) in Carancahua Cove, Galveston Bay estuary, Texas, USA. We also used a Geographic Information System (GIS), aerial photography, and population models to track changes in wetland area and trends in fishery populations over time. Decapod crustaceans were less speciose than fishes (35 vs. 60 species) in our samples, but this taxonomic group accounted for most (91%) of the animals we collected. Annual variability in animal abundance was high. Most species peaked in abundance during spring or fall, and were absent or occurred at low densities during winter. Mean densities of all abundant decapod crustaceans and several abundant fishes in our study were significantly greater in marsh vegetation than over SNB. Based on our GIS analysis, we estimated that 61% of the wetlands in the study area were converted to open water between 1982 and 1995; marsh edge (marsh within 1 m of the shoreline) was reduced by 70% during the same period. Our fishery models showed that brown shrimp Farfantepenaeus aztecus, white shrimp Litopenaeus setiferus, and blue crab Callinectes sapidus populations also declined substantially during this period as the area of wetlands and marsh edge was reduced. A marsh-terracing project in 1999 replaced some open water with marsh, and our models show that populations of these fishery species rebounded in response to this recent restoration effort.