The term nursery implies a special place for juvenile nekton (fishes and decapod crustaceans) where density, survival, and growth of juveniles and movement to adult habitat are enhanced over those in adjoining juvenile habitat types. We reviewed recent literature concerning these four topics and conducted meta-analyses for density and survival data. Most studies of mangroves as nurseries have addressed only occurrence or density of fishes or decapods, have not used quantitative sampling methods, and have not compared alternate habitats. Comparison of nekton densities among alternate habitats suggests that, at times, lower densities may be typical of mangroves when compared to seagrass, coral reef, marsh, and non-vegetated habitats. There is little direct consumption of mangrove detritus by nekton. C, N, and S isotope studies reveal little retention of mangrove production by higher consumers. Densities of prey for transient fishes and decapods may be greater within mangroves than elsewhere, but there has been no verification that food availability affects growth or survival. Experimental evidence indicates that mangrove roots and debris provide refuge for small nekton from predators, thus enhancing overall survival. There is no evidence that more individuals move to adult habitats from mangroves than from alternate inshore habitats. There is an obvious need to devise appropriate experiments to test the nursery functions of mangroves. Such data may then be one more reason to add support for mangrove conservation and preservation.
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