Funding Source: NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program

Synopsis: Seagrass is important habitat for a variety of marine and estuarine organisms, especially juveniles of commercially and recreationally important species. For this reason, seagrass is often considered a “nursery” for larger species, providing abundant food and refuge from predators while they are small. This project is part of a Gulf of Mexico-wide evaluation of the role of turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) as habitat.

The project aims to uncover relationships between seagrass and nekton and develop state-specific production models for finfish and invertebrates, thus providing critical information to resource managers, both in Florida and in other Gulf States. We also have performed experiments to determine blue crab growth rates and predation in these same seagrass beds. The project, funded by the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program, also includes collaborators from University of Southern Mississippi, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

 

Student Sawyer Downey of Martin Lab tags juvenile blue crabs Why we care

Seagrass beds serve as habitat for many commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish during some stage of their life. In the northern Gulf of Mexico, turtlegrass, a type of seagrass, is a critical foundation species that provides energy for food webs and shelter and foraging grounds for many species. In order for fisheries managers to understand how changing seagrass abundance impacts fisheries, we need to know how turtlegrass supports finfish and shellfish species in the Gulf of Mexico.

What we are doing

This project is an assessment of turtlegrass habitat use and an evaluation of the specific ways it supports blue crabs. The researchers will determine the abundance, diversity, age, and mix of juvenile and adult animals that use turtlegrass as habitat in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. Additionally, they will measure the relationships in these three states between blue crab growth and mortality and characteristics of the turtlegrass such as plant density and height. Finally, they will develop separate statistical models for Florida, Louisiana, and Texas that will estimate blue crab production in turtlegrass based on crab abundance, growth, and mortality data.

Expected Outcome

Models for estimating blue crab production in turtlegrass in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas will be developed and shared with fisheries managers.

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