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PLoS One. 2018 Jan 17;13(1):e0186889. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186889. eCollection 2018.

Do nursery habitats provide shelter from flow for juvenile fish?

Author information

NIWA, Auckland, New Zealand.
Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.
NIWA, Hamilton, New Zealand.
NIWA, Bream Bay, Ruakaka, New Zealand.


Juvenile fish nurseries are an essential life stage requirement for the maintenance of many fish populations. With many inshore habitats globally in decline, optimising habitat management by increasing our understanding of the relationship between juvenile fish and nursery habitats may be a prudent approach. Previous research on post-settlement snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) has suggested that structure may provide a water flow refuge, allowing snapper to access high water flow sites that will also have a high flux of their pelagic prey. We investigated this hypothesis by describing how Artificial Seagrass Units (ASUs) modified water flow while also using a multi-camera set up to quantify snapper position in relation to this water flow environment. Horizontal water flow was reduced on the down-current side of ASUs, but only at the height of the seagrass canopy. While the highest abundance of snapper did occur down-current of the ASUs, many snapper also occupied other locations or were too high in the water column to receive any refuge from water flow. The proportion of snapper within the water column was potentially driven by strategy to access zooplankton prey, being higher on the up-current side of ASUs and on flood tides. It is possible that post-settlement snapper alternate position to provide opportunities for both feeding and flow refuging. An alternative explanation relates to an observed interaction between post-settlement snapper and a predator, which demonstrated that snapper can utilise habitat structure when threatened. The nature of this relationship, and its overall importance in determining the value of nursery habitats to post-settlement snapper remains an elusive next step.

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