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Egg Exhumation and Transport on a Foreshore Under Wave and Swash Processes


Several aquatic species use beach foreshores to lay their eggs. Understanding the dynamics of egg entrainment versus egg retention in foreshore sediment is important to delivering eggs to foraging species, and to predicting fecundity and population responses of beach nesting species to harvest and habitat management. Exhumation of these eggs is primarily by bioturbation and wave action. This study isolates effects of wave and swash processes on exhumation, entrainment, and transport of horseshoe crab eggs by conducting a 1-day field study designed to avoid effects of bioturbation by spawning and migratory shorebird predation. Dyed sand and horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) eggs were injected into the foreshore of an estuarine beach in Delaware Bay, USA and sampled during 110 swash events using streamer traps. Significant wave heights ranged from 0.30 to 0.47 m. The quantity of eggs exhumed from the mid-foreshore by waves and swash was 3.8 times greater than from the upper foreshore where activation was by swash alone. Swash flows were skewed offshore, but egg transport was predominantly onshore from bore collapse. Egg release was greatest in early rising tide, making this the most productive time for shorebird foraging. Release of eggs from mid-foreshore may be dominated by wave action during high energy days with little spawning or by bioturbation by horseshoe crabs during intensive spawning. Activation depths in the swash were low, indicating that eggs buried on the upper foreshore can reach later stages of development after spawning ceases.

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This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, Geography and Spatial Sciences Program under Grant No. 0647877.

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Correspondence to Nancy L. Jackson.

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Communicated by Mead Allison

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Jackson, N.L., Saini, S., Smith, D.R. et al. Egg Exhumation and Transport on a Foreshore Under Wave and Swash Processes. Estuaries and Coasts 43, 286–297 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-019-00688-x

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  • Delaware Bay
  • Egg exhumation
  • Horseshoe crab
  • Sediment transport
  • Migratory shorebird
  • Swash