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Science Serving Maryland's Coasts


Connectivity of Fish Nursery Habitats between Maryland's Coastal Bays and Near Shore Ocean Environment

Principal Investigator: 

David H. Secor

Start/End Year: 

2009 to 2013


Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science


Strategic focus area: 

Resilient ecosystem processes and responses


*This project is a continuing project initially funded through award NA05OAR4171042 (year one) and currently funded through award NA10OAR4170072 (year two)*

OBJECTIVES: (1) During summer-fall 2008, conduct trawl surveys, targeting MD coastal bays, Ocean City Inlet, and nearshore ocean environment. (2) Using area-swept estimates compare juvenile abundances across habitat-types, analyze spatio-temporal patterns in size-structure of recruiting cohorts, and investigate the underlying biodiversity and composition of nursery fish assemblages. (3) Evaluate the connectivity of coastal bay and nearshore habitats through stable isotope food web analysis.

METHODOLOGY: We will undertake demersal juvenile finfish sampling of the MD coastal bays, Ocean City Inlet, and nearshore ocean environment using a 7 m semi-balloon trawl. Juvenile fish will be retained for stable isotope analysis of tissues and gut content analysis. Samples will be collected for characterization of food web structure across habitats. Observed juvenile densities and size-data will be used to investigate patterns in recruitment, habitat-use, and assemblage characteristics.

RATIONALE: To improve understanding of coastal habitat functions and connectivity, this study will rank relative nursery habitat values across estuarine (coastal bay), inlet and nearshore ocean areas based upon abundance and persistence of component species. We will also examine how discrete these nurseries are through comparison of assemblage metrics and food web analyses. This study will help elucidate the potential repercussions of mounting environmental stresses (e.g., shoreline development, beach nourishment, sea level rise, shoreline loss and modification, and dredging) on the ecological function of coastal bay and nearshore ocean nursery habitats.

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