Article: The identification, conservation, and management of estuarine and marine nurseries for fish and invertebrates

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Beck, M. W.; Heck, K. L.; Able, K. W.; Childers, D. L.; Eggleston, D. B.; Gillanders, B. M.; Halpern, B.; Hays, C. G.; Hoshino, K.; Minello, T. J.; Orth, R. J.; Sheridan, P. F.; Weinstein, M. R.
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Nearshore estuarine and marine ecosystems—e.g., seagrass meadows, marshes, and mangrove forests—serve many important functions in coastal waters. Most notably, they have extremely high primary and secondary productivity and support a great abundance and diversity of fish and invertebrates. Because of their effects on the diversity and productivity of macrofauna, these estuarine and marine ecosystems are often referred to as nurseries in numerous papers, textbooks, and government-sponsored reports (Boesch and Turner 1984, NRC 1995, Butler and Jernakoff 1999). Indeed, the role of these nearshore ecosystems as nurseries is an established ecological concept accepted by scientists, conservation groups, managers, and the public and cited as justification for the protection and conservation of these areas. Nonetheless, the nursery-role concept has rarely been stated clearly, even in papers that purport to test it. This ambiguity hinders the effectiveness of the nursery-role concept as a tool for conservation and management. We seek to redress that ambiguity by briefly tracing the history of the concept, developing a clear hypothesis with testable predictions, and discussing how this work can focus efforts in research, conservation, restoration, and management.

Nearshore estuarine and marine habitats function as nurseries for the larval stage of many organisms; Nearshore and marine habitats support high primary and secondary productivity and abundance and diversity of fish and invertebrate species; Many coastal and nearshore marine habitats have several key functions, including reducing erosion, reducing wave impacts, removing suspended solids, recycling nutrients, and adding oxygen to the water column Location of habitat is important; if it is not connected to other habitats or populations, the habitat will contribute little to the population as a whole.