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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 649:219-234 (2020)  -  DOI:

Littoral habitats as major nursery areas for fish species in estuaries: a reinforcement of the reduced predation paradigm

Alan K. Whitfield*

South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown/Makhanda 6140, South Africa
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: For many decades, the role of estuaries as important nursery areas for fishes was accepted as fact by scientists and environmental managers. At the turn of the 21st century, a question mark was raised in relation to the reduced predation component of the nursery function, with some scientists contending that both large and small piscivorous fish species had access to the estuarine habitats that juvenile fishes in estuaries occupied. If true on a global scale, the nursery designation for these habitats would be compromised and the long-held paradigm that estuaries are important nursery areas for fishes would need to be revised. In this review, I examine the nature of fish nursery areas in estuarine littoral habitats from a mainly predation perspective and, based on a variety of ichthyofaunal and avifaunal studies, come to the conclusion that apart from a few selected estuarine systems, there is limited predation on juvenile fishes in these particular areas. This, coupled with the abundant suitable food resources for juvenile fish from different trophic categories, shelter from high-energy marine wave action and biological connectivity between a variety of submerged and emergent macrophyte communities, renders shallow estuarine littoral areas ideal nursery areas for the juveniles of mostly euryhaline marine fish species, the dominant component of estuarine ichthyofaunas globally. In addition, there are strong indications from the fossil record that these littoral estuarine nursery areas have been functioning since the Devonian, more than 350 million years ago.

KEY WORDS: Estuaries · Fish nurseries · Food · Shelter · Predation · Connectivity

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Cite this article as: Whitfield AK (2020) Littoral habitats as major nursery areas for fish species in estuaries: a reinforcement of the reduced predation paradigm. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 649:219-234.

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