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Importance of eco-engineered inshore habitats for juvenile flatfish
Rabaut, M.; Van de Moortel, L.; van Dalfsen, J.; Vincx, M.; Degraer, S. (2009). Importance of eco-engineered inshore habitats for juvenile flatfish, in: Rabaut, M. Lanice conchilega, fisheries and marine conservation: Towards an ecosystem approach to marine management. pp. 123-145
In: Rabaut, M. (2009). Lanice conchilega, fisheries and marine conservation: Towards an ecosystem approach to marine management. PhD Thesis. Ghent University: Gent. ISBN 978-90-8756-025-6. xvii, 354 pp.

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  • Rabaut, M.
  • Van de Moortel, L.
  • van Dalfsen, J.
  • Vincx, M.
  • Degraer, S.

Abstract
    Within coastal nurseries, the distribution of juvenile flatfish may depend on small-scale habitat variability. The present study investigates the relation between the distribution of two juvenile flatfish species (Pleuronectes platessa and Limanda limanda) with two sessile tube dwelling polychaetes that create specific habitats at high densities. Their modulating effects make them classify as ecosystem engineers. Lanice conchilega and Owenia fusiformis, both frequently occurring in the coastal zones of the North Sea are the studied ecosystem engineers. These two benthic tube worm systems are investigated for their function as ‘essential juvenile habitat’ (EJH) in two geographical areas (the Belgian part of North Sea and the Dutch part of the Wadden Sea). General responses were identified by comparing relative differences between ecosystem engineered habitats and adjacent bare sand (i.e. non ecosystem engineered) habitats. Results show that both flatfish species select for the ecosystem engineered habitat. This behaviour was further investigated using stomach content analyses. For P. platessa occurring in L. conchilega habitat, this selection was explained as feeding behaviour. For the habitats created by O. fusiformis, no such a relation was found. For L. limanda higher densities within the ecosystem engineered habitats cannot be explained by feeding advantage but by the use of this habitat as a shelter. Therefore, higher flatfish densities could be explained by an antipredation behaviour. Lanice conchilega aggregations may be more important as feeding area for juvenile flatfish species in comparison with O. fusiformis aggregations. The indirect impacts of bottom trawling on benthic tube worm aggregations by reducing the suitability of the areas for juvenile flatfishes are discussed. We conclude that the emergent structures in the flatfish nursery area play an important role in the ecology of the juvenile flatfishes as feeding ground and/or as refuge from predation. These small-scale aspects of nursery grounds can be considered as EJH and merit attention in habitat suitability models as well as in marine conservation.

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