Using gradients in tidal restriction to evaluate nekton community responses to salt marsh restoration

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Few studies concerning tide-restricted and restoring salt marshes emphasize fishes and decapod crustaceans (nekton) despite their ecological significance. This study quantifies nekton utilization of three New England salt marshes under tide-restricted and restoring conditions (Hatches Harbor, Massachusetts; Sachuest Point and Galilee, Rhode Island). The degree of tidal restriction differed among marshes allowing for an examination of nekton utilization patterns along a gradient of tidal restriction and subsequent restoration. Based on sampling in shallow subtidal creeks and pools, nekton density and richness were significantly lower in the restricted marsh compared to the unrestricted marsh only at the most tide-restricted site (Sachuest Point). The dissimilarity in community composition between the unrestricted and restricted marsh sites increased with more pronounced tidal restriction. The increase in nekton density resulting from tidal restoration was positively related to the increase in tidal range. Species richness only increased with restoration at the most tide-restricted site; no significant change was observed at the other two sites. These patterns suggest that only severe tidal restrictions significantly reduce the habitat value of New England salt marshes for shallow subtidal nekton. This study suggests that the greatest responses by nekton, and the most dramatic shift towards a more natural nekton assemblage, will occur with restoration of severely restricted salt marshes.

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