NOLA.com: Louisiana Seafood Healthier, Thanks to Tiny Sea Creatures

by / Louisiana Seafood News on April 4, 2013

by Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

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Gammarus mucronatus, the amphipod grazer that can promote healthy eelgrass beds. Photo: Ecology

Gammarus mucronatus, the amphipod grazer that can promote healthy eelgrass beds.

From Louisiana blue crab to red drum, several species that help comprise our Louisiana seafood have healthier habitats in part because of tiny sea creatures no bigger than a thumbtack, according to a recent study published by the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology. The little crustacean “grazers,” some resembling tiny shrimp, are critical in protecting seagrasses from overgrowth by algae, helping keep these aquatic havens healthy for native and economically important species.

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Comparison of algae fouling on eelgrass with and without grazers. Photo: Matthew Whalen/UC Davis

Not only do these areas serve as nurseries for commercially important fish and shellfish, such as blue crabs, red drum, and some Pacific rockfish, but they also help clean our water and buffer our coastal communities by providing shoreline protection from storms,” said Jim Grace said, a coauthor of the study who is a University of Louisiana in Lafayette biologist and a U.S. Geological Surveyscientists. “These tiny animals, by going about their daily business of grazing, are integral to keeping healthy seagrass beds healthy.”

“Coastal managers have been concerned for years about excess fertilizer and sediment loads that hurt seagrasses,” said J. Emmett Duffy, an ecologist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and coauthor of the study. “Our results provide convincing field evidence that grazing by small animals can be just as important as good water quality in preventing nuisance algae blooms and keeping seagrass beds healthy.”

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