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Saltmarsh as habitat for fish and nektonic crustaceans: Challenges in sampling designs and methods



This is a review of research into the ecological role of saltmarsh as habitat used directly by fish and nektonic crustaceans such as shrimp (prawns) and portunid crabs. The quality of information about direct use of saltmarshes by nekton is poor, with even the most influential works suffering from obvious limitations. Attempts to generalize about nekton use of saltmarshes are hampered by sampling difficulties, poor sampling design, and inconsistent reporting of flooding regime and landscape structure. The difficulty in sampling nekton from shallow, vegetated marsh flats while inundated contributes to the fragmentary results of nekton work. A range of sampling methods have been described that vary in portability, size, amount of above-ground structure, escape rates of nekton, and expense; none has yet become standard. Poor experimental design in studies of saltmarsh nekton includes lack of replication, limited spatial scale, and lack of baseline data before management changes are made. Attempts to determine effects on commercial fisheries of losses in area or quality of saltmarsh by correlations between catch data and marsh loss should use active adaptive management. A second type of study, aimed at understanding how the saltmarsh is important to fisheries, can be tackled usefully at a smaller scale. To assist in the comparison of results from different studies, flooding regime should be reported as a proportion of time the marsh is submerged, and landscape structure as proportions of the marsh that are covered by intertidal flats, pools and drainage creeks. Flooding regime and landscape structure at the sites and at the time of sampling should then be put in the context of the typical pattern for the marsh under study.