Nursery function of tropical back-reef systems

Aaron J. Adams, Craig P. Dahlgren, G. Todd Kellison, Matthew S. Kendall, Craig A. Layman, Janet A. Ley, Ivan Nagelkerken, Joseph E. Serafy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Similar to nearshore systems in temperate latitudes, the nursery paradigm for tropical back-reef systems is that they provide a habitat for juveniles of species that subsequently make ontogenetic shifts to adult populations on coral reefs (we refer to this as the nursery function of back-reef systems). Nevertheless, we lack a full understanding of the importance of the nursery function of back-reef systems to the maintenance of coral reef fishes and invertebrate populations; the few studies that have examined the nursery function of multiple habitats indicate that the relationship between juvenile production in back-reef habitats and their subsequent contribution to adult populations on reefs remain poorly understood. In this synopsis we (1) synthesize current knowledge of life history, ecological and habitat influences on juvenile distribution patterns and nursery function within back-reef systems; (2) outline a research strategy for assessing the nursery function of various habitat types in back-reef systems; and (3) discuss management recommendations, particularly in regard to how improved knowledge of the nursery function of back-reef systems can be used in fisheries and ecosystem management, including habitat conservation and restoration decisions. The research strategy builds on research recommendations for assessing the nursery function of temperate habitats and includes 4 levels of research: (1) building conceptual models to guide research and management; (2) identifying juvenile habitat use patterns; (3) measuring connectivity of juvenile and adult populations between habitats; and (4) examining ecological processes that may influence patterns assessed in Level 2 and Level 3 research. Research and modeling output from Levels 1 to 4 will provide an improved ecological understanding of the degree and importance of interconnections between coral reef and adjacent back-reef systems, and will provide information to managers that will facilitate wise decisions pertaining to habitat conservation, habitat restoration, and ecosystem-based management, and the maintenance of sustainable fisheries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-301
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - Aug 3 2006


  • Back-reef systems
  • Coral reef seagrass
  • Mangrove
  • Nearshore habitats
  • Nursery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Nursery function of tropical back-reef systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this