Shallow rocky nursery habitat for fish: Spatial variability of juvenile fishes among this poorly protected essential habitat
Coastal nursery habitats are essential for the renewal of adult fish populations. We quantified the availability of a coastal nursery habitat (shallow heterogeneous rocky bottoms) and the spatial variability of its juvenile fish populations along 250 km of the Catalan coastline (France and Spain). Nurseries were present in 27% of the coastline, but only 2% of them benefited from strict protection status. For nine taxa characteristic of this habitat, total juvenile densities varied significantly between nursery sites along the coastline, with the highest densities being found on the northern sites. Recruitment level (i.e. a proxy of nursery value) was not explained by protection level, but it was moderately and positively correlated with an anthropization index. Patterns of spatial variations were taxa-specific. Exceptional observations of four juveniles of the protected grouper Epinephelus marginatus were recorded. Our data on habitat availability and recruitment levels provides important informations which help to focus MPA management efforts.
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