Blue Crab Abundance and Survival in a Fragmenting Coastal Marsh System

Abstract

Louisiana’s coastal marshes are becoming increasingly fragmented due to sea level rise, subsidence, reduced sediment inflow from the Mississippi River, and saltwater intrusion. Many commercially and recreationally fished species rely on the marsh system as nursery habitat, and the resilience of species to further marsh loss and marsh fragmentation is uncertain. We examined the impacts of marsh fragmentation on the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, a species supporting one of the largest fisheries in coastal Louisiana and which uses marsh edge as nursery habitat. Juvenile and adult abundances were quantified in multiple habitats (bare sediment, marsh edge, and submerged aquatic vegetation [SAV]) within an actively fragmenting coastal marsh. Adult blue crabs were sampled using crab pots, while juveniles were sampled using a throw trap. In general, blue crab density was unrelated to marsh fragmentation, but was instead related to local-scale patterns of habitat availability, including presence and type of vegetation. In tethering experiments to examine predation rates on juvenile blue crabs across habitats, predation rates were lowest in SAV compared with marsh edge or bare sediment. While direct effects of marsh fragmentation on local-scale patterns of blue crab abundance were not observed, marsh fragmentation will likely have indirect effects on blue crab populations through changes in habitat availability. Unless SAV expands into newly created open water areas, providing an alternative nursery habitat for blue crabs, continued marsh fragmentation and loss are expected to have negative impacts on blue crab populations and fisheries through a decrease in available nursery habitat.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

References

  1. Aronson, R.B., K.L. Heck Jr., and J.F. Valentine. 2001. Measuring predation with tethering experiments. Marine Ecology Progress Series 214: 311–312.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bogaert, J., P. Van Hecke, D. Salvador-van Eysenrode, and I. Impens. 2000. Landscape fragmentation assessment using a single measure. Wildlife Society Bulletin 28: 875–881.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bourgeois, M., J. Marx, and K. Semon. 2014. Louisiana blue crab fishery management plan. Baton Rouge: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Boylan, J.M., and E.L. Wenner. 1993. Settlement of brachyuran megalopae in a South Carolina, USA, estuary. Marine Ecology Progress Series 97: 237–246.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Browder, J.A., H.A. Bartley, and K.S. Davis. 1985. A probabilistic model of the relationship between marshland/water interface and marsh disintegration. Ecological Modelling 29: 245–260.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Canion, C.R., and K.L. Heck. 2009. Effect of habitat complexity on predation success: re-evaluating the current paradigm in seagrass beds. Marine Ecology Progress Series 393: 37–46.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Cho, H.J., and M.A. Poirrier. 2005. Seasonal growth and reproduction of Ruppia maritima L. s.l. in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, USA. Aquatic Botany 81: 37–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2004.10.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Cho, H. J., P. Biber, and C. Nica. 2009. The rise of Ruppia in seagrass beds: changes in coastal environment and research needs. In: Handbook on environmental quality, 333–47. Environmental Science, Engineering and Technology. Nova Science Publishers.

  9. Cho, H.J., A. Lu, P. Biber, and J.D. Caldwell. 2012. Aquatic plants of the Mississippi Coast. Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences 57: 240–249.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) of Louisiana. 2012. Louisiana’s comprehensive master plan for a sustainable coast. Baton Rouge: Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) of Louisiana. 2018. Coastwide reference monitoring system-wetlands monitoring data. Retrieved from Coastal Information Management System (CIMS) database. http://cims.coastal.louisiana.gov.

  12. Coleman, James M., Oscar K. Huh, and DeWitt Braud Jr. 2008. Wetland loss in world deltas. Journal of Coastal Research 24: 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Couvillion, B.R., and H. Beck. 2013. Marsh collapse thresholds for coastal Louisiana estimated using elevation and vegetation index data. Journal of Coastal Research 63: 58–67.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Couvillion, B. R., J. A. Barras, G. D. Steyer, W. Sleavin, M. Fischer, H. Beck, N. Trahan, B. Griffin, and D. Heckman. 2011. Land area change in coastal Louisiana from 1932 to 2010. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3164.

  15. Couvillion, B.R., M.R. Fischer, H.J. Beck, and W.J. Sleavin. 2016. Spatial configuration trends in coastal Louisiana from 1985 to 2010. Wetlands 36: 347–359.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Couvillion, B.R., H. Beck, D. Schoolmaster, M. Fischer. 2017. Land area change in coastal Louisiana. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3381, https://doi.org/10.3133/sim3381.

  17. Dahl, T.E., and S.M. Stedman. 2013. Status and trends of wetlands in the coastal watersheds of the conterminous United States 2004 to 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Davidson, C. 1998. Issues in measuring landscape fragmentation. Wildlife Society Bulletin 26: 32–37.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Day, J.W., G.P. Kemp, D.J. Reed, D.R. Cahoon, R.M. Boumans, J.M. Suhayda, and R. Gambrell. 2011. Vegetation death and rapid loss of surface elevation in two contrasting Mississippi delta salt marshes: the role of sedimentation, autocompaction and sea-level rise. Ecological Engineering 37: 229–240.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Harrod, J.J. 1964. The distribution of invertebrates on submerged aquatic plants in a chalk stream. Journal of Animal Ecology 33: 335–348.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Heck, K.L., and T.A. Thoman. 1981. Experiments on predator-prey interactions in vegetated aquatic habitats. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 53: 125–134. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-0981(81)90014-9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Heck, K.L., and T.A. Thoman. 1984. The nursery role of seagrass meadows in the upper and lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries 7: 70–92.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Heck, K.L., and G.S. Wetstone. 1977. Habitat complexity and invertebrate species richness and abundance in tropical seagrass meadows. Journal of Biogeography 4: 135–142.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Heck, K.L., and K.A. Wilson. 1987. Predation rates on decapod crustaceans in latitudinally separated seagrass communities: a study of spatial and temporal variation using tethering techniques. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 107: 87–100.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hester, M.W., E.A. Spalding, and C.D. Franze. 2005. Biological resources of the Louisiana Coast: part 1. An overview of coastal plant communities of the Louisiana Gulf shoreline. Journal of Coastal Research 44: 134–145.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Hillmann, E., K.E. DeMarco, and M. La Peyre. 2016. Establishing a baseline of estuarine submerged aquatic vegetation resources across salinity zones within coastal areas of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Journal of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 3: 25–32.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Hitch, A.T., K.M. Purcell, S.B. Martin, P.L. Klerks, and P.L. Leberg. 2011. Interactions of salinity, marsh fragmentation and submerged aquatic vegetation on resident nekton assemblages of coastal marsh ponds. Estuaries and Coasts 34: 653–662.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Hovel, K.A., and R.N. Lipcius. 2002. Effects of seagrass habitat fragmentation on juvenile blue crab survival and abundance. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 271: 75–98.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Hoyer, M.V., C. Morsburgh, K. Brown, and D. Canfield. 1996. Florida freshwater plants : a handbook of common aquatic plants in Florida lakes. Gainesville: University of Florida - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Jankowski, K.L., T.E. Tornqvist, and A.M. Fernandes. 2017. Vulnerability of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands to present-day rates of relative sea-level rise. Nature Communications 8: 14792. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms14792.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Jerabek, A., K.M. Darnell, C. Pellerin, and T.J.B. Carruthers. 2017. Use of marsh edge and submerged aquatic vegetation as habitat by fish and crustaceans in degrading Southern Louisiana coastal marshes. Southeastern Geographer 57: 212–230.

  32. La Peyre, M.K., and J. Gordon. 2012. Nekton density patterns and hurricane recovery in submerged aquatic vegetation, and along non-vegetated natural and created edge habitats. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 98: 108–118.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Larkum, A.W.D., R.J. Orth, and C. Duarte. 2006. Seagrasses: biology, ecology, and conservation. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Lipcius, R.N., R.D. Seitz, M.S. Seebo, and D. Colón-Carrión. 2005. Density, abundance and survival of the blue crab in seagrass and unstructured salt marsh nurseries of Chesapeake Bay. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 319: 69–80.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Lipcius, R.N., D.B. Eggleston, K.L. Heck, R.D. Seitz, and J. van Montfrans. 2007. Post-settlement abundance, survival, and growth of postlarvae and young juvenile blue crabs in nursery habitats. In The blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, ed. V.S. Kennedy and L.E. Cronin, 535–562. College Park: Maryland Sea Grant.

    Google Scholar 

  36. MacRae, P., and J. Cowan. 2010. Habitat preferences of spotted seatrout, Cynoscion nebulosus, in coastal Louisiana: a step towards informing spatial management in estuarine ecosystems. The Open Fish Science Journal 3: 154–163.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Mansour, R.A., and R.M. Lipcius. 1991. Density-dependent foraging and mutual interference in blue crabs preying upon infaunal clams. Marine Ecology Progress Series 72: 239–246.

    Google Scholar 

  38. McQuinn, I.H., L. Gendron, and J.H. Himmelman. 1988. Area of attraction and effective area fished by a whelk (Buccinum undatum) trap under variable conditions. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 45: 2054–2060.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Minello, T.J., and L.P. Rozas. 2002. Nekton in Gulf Coast wetlands: fine-scale distributions, landscape patterns, and restoration implications. Ecological Applications 12: 441–455.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Minello, T.J., K.W. Able, M.P. Weinstein, and C.G. Hays. 2003. Salt marshes as nurseries for nekton: testing hypotheses on density, growth, and survival through meta-analysis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 246: 39–59.

    Google Scholar 

  41. NMFS. 2016. Fisheries of the United States, 2016. Silver Spring: National Marine Fisheries Service.

    Google Scholar 

  42. NMFS. 2017. Annual commercial landing statistics. National Marine Fisheries Service. http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/commercial/landings/annual_landings.html.

  43. Orth, R.J., and J. van Montfrans. 1987. Utilization of a seagrass meadow and tidal marsh creek by blue crabs Callinectes sapidus. I. Seasonal and annual variations in abundance with emphasis on post-settlement juveniles. Marine Ecology Progress Series 41: 283–294.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Pedersen, E.J., D.L. Miller, G.L. Simpson, and N. Ross. 2019. Hierarchical generalized additive models in ecology: an introduction with mgcv. PeerJ 7: e6876.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Perkins-Visser, E., T.G. Wolcott, and D.L. Wolcott. 1996. Nursery role of seagrass beds: enhanced growth of juvenile blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 198: 155–173.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Perry, H., D.R. Johnson, K. Larsen, C. Trigg, and F. Vukovich. 2003. Blue crab larval dispersion and retention in the Mississippi Bight: testing the hypothesis. Bulletin of Marine Science 72: 331–346.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Pile, A., R. Lipcius, J. Van Montfrans, and R. Orth. 1996. Density-dependent settler-recruit-juvenile relationships in blue crabs. Ecological Monographs 66: 277–300.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Powell, A.N. 2006. Are Southern California’s fragmented saltmarshes capable of sustaining endemic bird populations? Studies in Avian Biology 32: 198–204.

    Google Scholar 

  49. R Core Team. 2019. R: a language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. https://www.R-project.org/.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Rabalais, N.N., F.R. Burditt, L.D. Coen, B.E. Cole, C. Eleuterius, K.L. Heck, T.A. McTigue, S.G. Morgan, H.M. Perry, F.M. Truesdale, R.K. ZimmerFaust, and R.J. Zimmerman. 1995. Settlement of Callinectes sapidus megalopae on artificial collectors in four Gulf of Mexico estuaries. Bulletin of Marine Science 57: 855–876.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Ralph, G.M., R.D. Seitz, R.J. Orth, K.E. Knick, and R.N. Lipcius. 2013. Broad-scale association between seagrass cover and juvenile blue crab density in Chesapeake Bay. Marine Ecology Progress Series 488: 51–63.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Rozas, L.P., and T.J. Minello. 1997. Estimating densities of small fishes and decapod crustaceans in shallow estuarine habitats: a review of sampling design with focus on gear selection. Estuaries 20: 199–213.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Saunders, M.I., J. Leon, S.R. Phinn, D.P. Callaghan, K.R. O’Brien, C.M. Roelfsema, C.E. Lovelock, M.B. Lyons, and P.J. Mumby. 2013. Coastal retreat and improved water quality mitigate losses of seagrass from sea level rise. Global Change Biology 19 (8): 2569–2583.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Scavia, D., J.C. Field, D.F. Boesch, R.W. Buddemeier, V. Burkett, D.R. Cayan, M. Fogarty, M.A. Harwell, R.W. Howarth, C. Mason, D.J. Reed, T.C. Royer, A.H. Sallenger, and J.G. Titus. 2002. Climate change impacts on U.S. coastal and marine ecosystems. Estuaries 25: 149–164.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Strange, E.M., A. Shellenbarger Jones, C. Bosch, R. Jones, D. Kreeger, and J.G. Titus. 2008. Mid-Atlantic coastal habitats and environmental implications of sea level rise. Section 3. In Background Documents Supporting Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.1, ed. J.G. Titus and E.M. Strange. Washington, D.C.: EPA 430R07004: U.S. EPA.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Thayer, G.W., D.A. Wolfe, and R.B. Williams. 1975. The impact of man on seagrass systems. American Scientist 63: 288–296.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Thomas, J.L., and R.J. Zimmerman. 1990. Abundance patterns of juvenile blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) in nursery habitats of two Texas bays. Bulletin of Marine Science 46: 115–125.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Turner, R.E., and Y.S. Rao. 1990. Relationships between wetland fragmentation and recent hydrologic changes in a deltaic coast. Estuaries 13: 272–281.

    Google Scholar 

  59. USDA:FSA. 2015. 1-m resolution satellite orthoimagery. United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. Available: https://gdg.sc.egov.usda.gov/GDGOrder.aspx

  60. van Montfrans, J., C.H. Ryer, and R.J. Orth. 2003. Substrate selection by blue crab Callinectes sapidus megalopae and first juvenile instars. Marine Ecology Progress Series 260: 209–217.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Wolcott, T.G., and A.H. Hines. 1990. Ultrasonic telemetry of small-scale movements and microhabitat selection by molting blue crab (Callinectes sapidus). Bulletin of Marine Science 46: 83–94.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Zimmerman, R.J., T.J. Minello, and L.P. Rozas. 2000. Salt marsh linkages to productivity of penaeid shrimps and blue crabs in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. In Concepts and controversies in tidal marsh ecology, ed. M.P. Weinstein and D.A. Kreeger, 293–314. Springer Netherlands: Dordrecht.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Zuur, A.F., A.A. Savaliev, and E.N. Ieno. 2015. A beginner’s guide to generalized additive mixed models with R. Newburgh: Highland Statistics Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors thank S. Cunningham, K. Ellsworth, A. Jerabek, A. Kemberling, L. Moss, and H. Olmi for assistance with field work, sample processing, and analyses.

Data Accessibility

All data and model code are accessible at Dryad: https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.wwpzgmsg3.

Funding

This study was funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service award NA15NMF4270328 to TJBC, KMD, and MZD and an Early-Career Research Fellowship from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to MZD.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. Zachary Darnell.

Ethics declarations

Disclaimer

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Additional information

Communicated by Matthew D. Taylor

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Shakeri, L.M., Darnell, K.M., Carruthers, T.J.B. et al. Blue Crab Abundance and Survival in a Fragmenting Coastal Marsh System. Estuaries and Coasts 43, 1545–1555 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-020-00738-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Salt marsh
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Blue crab
  • Callinectes sapidus
  • SAV
  • Louisiana
  • Gulf of Mexico