Methods for estimating decapod larval supply and settlement: importance of larval behavior and development stage
Marine Ecology Progress Series
In marine benthic organisms with a pelagic larval phase, assessment of recruitment regulation necessitates accurate estimates of larval supply and initial settlement densities. We assessed 2 commonly used methods for estimating decapod larval supply, plankton net tows and artificial settlement substrates (ASS), together with a new technique using passive-migration traps. The aim was to evaluate how these methods estimate larval supply and settlement of 3 common decapod species (the shore crab
... rcinus maenas L., the brown shrimp Crangon crangon L. and the grass shrimps Palaemon spp.) in a microtidal nursery area on the Swedish west coast, and to assess how these estimates relate to the juvenile recruitment of these species. Discrete plankton net tows outside the shallow nursery area collected a higher proportion of larvae at an early development stage, compared to the other methods, and produced only a snapshot of the variable water-column abundance of shore crab and grass shrimp larvae that correlated poorly with numbers collected with ASS at the same location. Artificial settlement substrates appeared to produce good, integrated relative estimates of shore crab larval supply and settlement. The number of larvae collected from ASS correlated significantly with larval abundance estimated by passive-migration traps in shallow nursery areas, and reflected changes in shore crab settlement densities in caged mussel habitats. We did not detect any effect of predation on ASS placed in nursery areas. However, a large proportion (an estimated 83%) of shore crab postlarvae appeared to emigrate from ASS immersed for periods longer than 12 h, possibly during the night. All grass shrimp larvae appeared to emigrate from the collectors within 24 h, suggesting that ASS immersed longer than 12 h do not produce useful integrated estimates of larval supply for this species. These results demonstrate the importance of assessing postlarval emigration patterns from ASS to optimize immersion and collection time, and to avoid confounded estimates of larval abundance and settlement. A new method using replicated passive migration traps that fished continuously in opposite directions (on-shore and off-shore) gave promising integrated estimates of net fluxes (total number immigrating minus number emigrating per unit time) of both pelagic postlarvae and early benthic juvenile stages of crabs and shrimp. The majority of the brown shrimp recruits were young juveniles, demonstrating the importance of incorporating juvenile migration in recruitment studies of motile benthic species. High numbers of shore crab and grass shrimp larvae were found to emigrate from the bay, indicating that many decapod postlarvae found in nursery areas may be transitional. The emigrating larvae were on average in an earlier development stage than those migrating to the bay. These short-term experiments demonstrate the importance of assessing larval development stage and migratory behavior when estimating larval supply and settlement for recruitment studies.