MEPS 300:179-191 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps300179

Influence of seagrass landscape structure on the juvenile blue crab habitat-survival function

Kevin A. Hovel1,2,*, Mark S. Fonseca1

1NOAA/NOS Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, 101 Pivers Island Road, Beaufort,North Carolina 28516, USA
2Present address: Department of Biology, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92182-4614, USA

ABSTRACT: Organismal survival in marine habitats is often positively correlated with habitat structural complexity at local (within-patch) spatial scales. Far less is known, however, about how marine habitat structure at the landscape scale influences predation and other ecological processes, and in particular, how these processes are dictated by the interactive effect of habitat structure at local and landscape scales. The relationship between survival and habitat structure can be modeled with the habitat-survival function (HSF), which often takes on linear, hyperbolic, or sigmoid forms. We used tethering experiments to determine how seagrass landscape structure influenced the HSF for juvenile blue crabs Callinectes sapidus Rathbun in Back Sound, North Carolina, USA. Crabs were tethered in artificial seagrass plots of 7 different shoot densities embedded within small (1–3 m2) or large (>100 m2) seagrass patches (October 1999), and within 10 × 10 m landscapes containing patchy (<50% cover) or continuous (>90% cover) seagrass (July 2000). Overall, crab survival was higher in small than in large patches, and was higher in patchy than in continuous seagrass. The HSF was hyperbolic in large patches and in continuous seagrass, indicating that at low levels of habitat structure, relatively small increases in structure resulted in substantial increases in juvenile blue crab survival. However, the HSF was linear in small seagrass patches in 1999 and was parabolic in patchy seagrass in 2000. A sigmoid HSF, in which a threshold level of seagrass structure is required for crab survival, was never observed. Patchy seagrass landscapes are valuable refuges for juvenile blue crabs, and the effects of seagrass structural complexity on crab survival can only be fully understood when habitat structure at larger scales is considered.

KEY WORDS: Habitat structure · Blue crab · Habitat fragmentation · Seagrass · Habitat-survival function

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