Seasonal habitat-use patterns of nekton in a tide-restricted and unrestricted New England salt marsh

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Many New England salt marshes remain tide-restricted or are undergoing tidal restoration. Hydrologic manipulation of salt marshes affects marsh biogeochemistry and vegetation patterns, but responses by fishes and decapod crustaceans (nekton) remain unclear. This study examines nekton habitat-use patterns in the tide-restricted Hatches Harbor salt marsh (Provincetown, Massachusetts) relative to a downstream, unrestricted marsh. Nekton assemblages were sampled in tidal creek, marsh pool, and salt marsh surface habitats. Pools and creeks were sampled every two weeks for one year to account for seasonal variability, and the marsh surface was sampled at two-week intervals in summer and fall. Density, richness, and community composition of nekton in creek and marsh surface habitats were similar between the unrestricted and restricted marsh, but use of pools differed drastically on the two sides of the tide-restricting dike. In 95% of the cases tested, restricted marsh habitats provided equal or greater habitat value for nekton than the same habitat in the unrestricted marsh (based on density), suggesting that the restricted marsh did not provide a degraded habitat for most species. For some species, the restricted marsh provided nursery, breeding, and overwintering habitat during different seasons, and tidal restoration of this salt marsh must be approached with care to prevent losses of these valuable marsh functions.

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