The potential of marginal coastal nursery habitats for the conservation of a culturally important Caribbean marine species

Authors: Thomas C. Stieglitz, Antoine M. Dujon, Joanne R. Peel, Erwan Amice

Source: Diversity and Distributions

Brief summary of the paper:

Aim: Identifying the potential of marginal habitats for species conservation is of key importance when their core high‐quality habitats are under substantial disturbances and threats. However, there is currently a knowledge gap on how useful marine marginal habitats may be for conserving endangered marine species. Here, we investigate the potential of groundwater‐fed coastal areas for the conservation of the queen conch, an economically and culturally important marine gastropod.

Location: The inlet of Xel‐Há, typical of groundwater‐fed coastal areas widely distributed along the Yucatan Peninsula coast in Mexico and partially protected by a network of marine protected areas.

Methods: We tracked 66 queen conchs (Lobatus gigas) using acoustic telemetry over a period of 3.5 years. We investigated for ontogenetic niche shift using a network analysis and by modelling their growth.

Results: The queen conchs exhibited the same ontogenetic niche shift required to complete their life cycle in this marginal habitat as they do in offshore core habitats. A total of 33 individuals departed the inlet and migrated from shallow groundwater‐affected nursery grounds to deeper marine habitats more suitable for breeding aggregation.

Main conclusions: As the broad‐scale movement behaviour of queen conch in this inlet is similar to that observed on the overfished core habitats, our findings suggest that groundwater‐fed coastal areas should be included in conservation planning for an effective management of this species within a network of marine protected areas.