In today’s world, there are ever-increasing demands placed on marine and coastal habitats. North Carolina’s coastal habitats provide many essential services to humans and support a large economic driver in our state: our commercial and recreational fisheries. Despite their vital role, very little is understood about how the area of any one particular habitat relates to a given amount of fishery production.
Tidal wetlands — otherwise knowns as marshes — are believed to serve as key habitat for many commercially and recreationally valuable fishes and crustaceans. Approximately 90% of the fishery species commercially harvested in North Carolina are considered ‘wetland-dependent.’ However, over the past 200 years, upwards of about 30% of coastal marshes have been lost due to a variety of human-induced stressors. This has resulted in the breaking apart of previously continuous tracts of habitat.
My dissertation research focuses on understanding how ecologically and economically important fishes and crustaceans use different types of marsh habitats as foraging areas to obtain energy and grow, and how fishery species respond to coastal habitat change, including degradation or loss of marshes. My dissertation work offers valuable insight into how these coastal habitats vary in support to fishes and crustaceans geographically. This provides key information to fishery managers toward the conservation and restoration of marshes to best enhance economically valuable species and sustain lucrative fishing industries in North Carolina and beyond.