The brown shrimp Crangon crangon migrates into the brackish part of the Westerschelde estuary (southwest Netherlands) shortly after metamorphosis and uses the tidal marsh habitat as a nursery until reaching a total length of about 15mm. The importance of the marsh as a nursery was evaluated by estimating foraging activity, predation mortality and residence time. In early postlarval stages, C. crangon utilised the intertidal creeks of an estuarine tidal marsh from early spring (March-April) until late autumn (October-November). Postlarval shrimp leaving the marsh with the ebb tide always had significantly more food in their stomachs than shrimp entering the marsh with the incoming flood water. Predation upon the shrimp population was relatively low during most months, but it increased between August and October when common gobies, Pomatoschistus microps, were present in high densities. There was also predation by the small seabass Dicentrarchus labrax. The marsh creeks function both as foraging areas and as predation refuge. Depending on temperature, postlarval shrimp stayed in the marsh for a period of two to three weeks. Quantitatively, the value of the marsh as a nursery area had changed drastically during a second year of sampling, illustrating high natural year-to-year variability. However, the seasonal pattern remained. Recruitment to the subtidal adult population represents an export of animals from the marsh to the estuary. This export is negligible in terms of biomass (as compared to the total biomass of the estuarine population) but it may be important in terms of numbers of individuals.
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