Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 102, Issue 2, pp 383–402 | Cite as

Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) nursery habitats: evaluation of habitat quality and broad-scale habitat identification

  • JoEllen K. WilsonEmail author
  • Aaron J. Adams
  • Robert N. M. Ahrens


Coastal habitats are threatened worldwide by habitat loss and degradation. These habitats play a crucial role as fish nurseries. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine the impact of habitat degradation for many species because data are lacking on early life history metrics including growth (0.07 ± 0.04 SE mm/day in this study), survival (apparent annual survival 0.007 (95% CI: 0.001–0.033 in this study), emigration (27% in this study) and the spatial extent and condition of these habitats. The juvenile life stage of Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus), an economically important species in the Caribbean, sub-tropical and tropical Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico, depends upon wetlands and marshes. A mark-recapture study designed to measure juvenile tarpon growth in an altered mangrove habitat in Florida (USA) found that juvenile tarpon exhibited slow growth and emigrated at small sizes. The low scores on these metrics, in combination with a broad knowledge gap on the extent and condition of juvenile tarpon habitats in Florida, caused concern about the conservation prospects for tarpon and the fishery it supports. To provide information necessary to formulating an effective conservation plan for tarpon, we used citizen science to identify juvenile tarpon habitats and to characterize them as natural or altered (a first-level measure of direct, physical habitat change). A comparison of angler reports and habitat assessments with scientific field assessments showed that using anglers is an efficient and effective means of identifying juvenile tarpon habitats and providing a first-level assessment of habitat condition. This study provides a baseline for ongoing and future habitat conservation and restoration efforts for juvenile tarpon and other species that also use these habitats as nurseries.


Citizen science Early life history Habitat management Recreational fisheries Essential fish habitat 



The project was funded by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. Special thanks to the Lemon Bay Conservancy for the use of their property. Thanks to Warren Leach at Oregon RFID and A. Barbour for assistance with PIT-tag antennas, K. Guindon and the employees of the Tarpon Genetics Lab at the Fish & Wildlife Research Institute for genetic analysis, and B. Pine for assistance with Program MARK. The GIS map was provided by Rob McLaughlin. This research was conducted under FWC permit SAL-13-1484-SR.

Supplementary material

10641_2018_835_Fig7_ESM.png (432 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 1

Surface and bottom monthly salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen measurements at Wildflower Preserve. Measurements were taken in all 3 ponds and averaged with error bars (PNG 431 kb)

10641_2018_835_MOESM1_ESM.tif (191 kb)
High resolution image (TIF 190 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bonefish and Tarpon TrustCoral GablesUSA
  2. 2.Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic InstituteFort PierceUSA
  3. 3.University of Florida Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences ProgramGainesvilleUSA

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