Evidence of connectivity between juvenile and adult habitats for mobile marine fauna: An important component of nurseries

Bronwyn M. Gillanders, Kenneth W. Able, Jennifer A. Brown, David B. Eggleston, Peter F. Sheridan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

385 Scopus citations


A critical link missing from our understanding of the nursery role of specific marine habitats is the evidence of connectivity between juvenile and adult habitats. This paper reviews and evaluates evidence of, and spatial scales for, movements from juvenile to adult habitats and it summarises the methods used to study movements. Examples include many fish families but few invertebrate taxa, and most are species of economic importance for USA and Australia. The types of juvenile habitat range from the entire estuary or shallow open coastal waters to specific habitats within estuaries or coastal waters; in some cases juvenile habitats include habitats not traditionally regarded as nursery areas (e.g. the surf zone). The duration of time spent in juvenile habitats averages 13 mo (range 8 d to 5 yr). The majority of organisms move distances of kilometres to hundreds of kilometres from juvenile to adult habitats, although the scale of movements ranged from metres to thousands of kilometres. Changes in abundance among separate habitats and the progression of size classes among separate habitats are the main methods used to infer movement and habitat connectivity. Spatial partitioning of stages of maturity, natural parasites, and a variety of artificial tagging methods have also been used. The latter will become more useful with continued developments in the miniaturisation of artificial tags. More recent studies have used natural tags (e.g. trace elements and stable isotopes) and these methods show great promise for determining movements from juvenile to adult habitats. Few studies provide good evidence for movement from specific juvenile habitats to adult habitats. Future studies need to focus on this movement to supplement data on density, growth and survival of organisms in putative nursery habitats. Such information will allow management and conservation efforts to focus on those habitats that make the greatest contribution to adult populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-295
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - Feb 4 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


  • Adult habitat
  • Connectivity
  • Estuary
  • Movement
  • Nursery habitat
  • Open coast
  • Review
  • Spatial scale
  • Temporal scale

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