Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 401–414 | Cite as

True Value of Estuarine and Coastal Nurseries for Fish: Incorporating Complexity and Dynamics

  • Marcus SheavesEmail author
  • Ronald Baker
  • Ivan Nagelkerken
  • Rod M. Connolly


Coastal ecosystems, such as estuaries, salt marshes, mangroves and seagrass meadows, comprise some of the world’s most productive and ecologically significant ecosystems. Currently, the predominant factor considered in valuing coastal wetlands as fish habitats is the contribution they make to offshore, adult fish stocks via ontogenetic migrations. However, the true value of coastal nurseries for fish is much more extensive, involving several additional, fundamentally important ecosystem processes. Overlooking these broader aspects when identifying and valuing habitats risks suboptimal conservation outcomes, especially given the intense competing human pressures on coastlines and the likelihood that protection will have to be focussed on specific locations rather than across broad sweeps of individual habitat types. We describe 10 key components of nursery habitat value grouped into three types: (1) connectivity and population dynamics (includes connectivity, ontogenetic migration and seascape migration), (2) ecological and ecophysiological factors (includes ecotone effects, ecophysiological factors, food/predation trade-offs and food webs) and (3) resource dynamics (includes resource availability, ontogenetic diet shifts and allochthonous inputs). By accounting for ecosystem complexities and spatial and temporal variation, these additional components offer a more comprehensive account of habitat value. We explicitly identify research needs and methods to support a broader assessment of nursery habitat value. We also explain how, by better synthesising results from existing research, some of the seemingly complex aspects of this broader view can be addressed efficiently.


Nursery ground Ecosystem mosaic Coastal wetland Estuary Fish 



We thank R. Vasconcelos and anonymous reviewers for comments that improved this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcus Sheaves
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • Ronald Baker
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  • Ivan Nagelkerken
    • 3
  • Rod M. Connolly
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.CSIRO Land and Water, ATSIP BuildingJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Southern Seas Ecology Laboratories, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, DX 650418University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Australian Rivers Institute – Coasts & Estuaries, Griffith School of EnvironmentGriffith UniversityGold CoastAustralia
  5. 5.TropWATER (Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research)James Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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