, Volume 96, Issue 2, pp 193-205

Mangroves as nursery sites: comparisons of the abundance and species composition of fish and crustaceans in mangroves and other nearshore habitats in tropical Australia

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Abstract

Daytime sampling of mangrove and seagrass (Halophila/Halodule community) habitats every 7 wk at Alligator Creek, Queensland, Australia, over a period of 13 mo (February 1985–February 1986) using two types of seine net, revealed distinct mangrove and seagrass fish and crustacean faunas. Total abundance of fish and relative abundance of small and large fish also varied between habitats and seasonally. Post-larval, juvenile and small adult fish captured with a small seine-net (3 mm mesh) were significantly more abundant (4 to 10 times) in the mangrove habitat throughout the 13 mo of sampling. Mangrove fish abundance showed significant seasonality, greatest catches being recorded in the warm, wet-season months of the year. Relative abundances of larger fish (captured in a seine net with 18 mm mesh) in the two habitats varied throughout the year, but did not show a seasonal pattern. At the same site, small crustaceans were significantly more abundant in the mangroves in all but one dryseason sample. Similar comparisons for three riverine sites, sampled less frequently, in the dry and wet seasons of 1985 and 1986, respectively, showed that in general mangrove habitats had significantly more fish per sample, although the relative abundance of fish in mangroves and other habitats changed with season. Crustacean catches showed a similar pattern, except that densities among sites changed with season. Fish and crustacean abundance in mangroves varied among sites, indicating that estuaries differ in their nursery-ground value. The juveniles of two commercially important penaeid prawn species (Penaeus merguiensis and Metapenaeus ensis) were amongst the top three species of crustaceans captured in the study, and both were significantly more abundant in the mangrove habitat. By contrast, mangroves could not be considered an important nursery for juveniles of commercially important fish species in northern Australia. However, based on comparisons of fish catches in other regions, the results of the present study indicate the importance of mangroves as nursery sites for commercially exploited fish stocks elsewhere in South-East Asia.

Contribution No. 378 from the Australian Institute of Marine Science
Communicated by G. F. Humphrey, Sydney