NOAA: Grass Shrimp May Become a Leading Indicator Of Human Impact On Coastal Ecosystems

Grass shrimp (Palaemonetes species) plays an important role as an indicator of human impacts on estuaries and the coastal environment, according to a review by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, published in the journal Environmental Bioindicators.

The study concluded that grass shrimp testing coupled with ecological monitoring and biomarkers -- indicators of contaminant exposure -- may help coastal managers make informed environmental decisions using this crustacean as a model indicator species.

The grass shrimp is widely distributed along the U.S. East and Gulf coasts in tidal marsh systems. These shrimp are ecologically important estuarine crustaceans that are studied from both toxicological and ecological perspectives. Due to its high natural densities and ease of culture in laboratories, Palaemonetes species have become a "sentinel species" in coastal ecosystems.

"Ecologically based studies, toxicity testing and sublethal assessments in grass shrimp have laid the groundwork for this genus to be used as an indicator species," said Peter Key, research fishery biologist with the NOAA Ocean Service in Charleston, S.C. "These shrimp are important dietary components for many commercially valuable fish and crustacean species, and their decline can prove threatening to the estuarine food chain."

These findings, published Aug. 9, were a result of the NOAA sponsored 2003 workshop, "The Use of Grass Shrimp as an Indicator of Injury to Estuarine Ecosystems," which concluded grass shrimp to be more sensitive to contaminates than estuarine fish and a sound indicator of the early stages of declining health in estuarine habitats.

U.S. coastal systems are ecologically important aquatic environments due to their diversity and productivity. These ecosystems, which include estuaries, coastal wetlands, coral reefs and mangrove forests, provide spawning grounds, nurseries, shelter and food for many animal species.

The NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science conducts research ranging from the study of biomolecular changes due to coral bleaching, to the causes of shellfish disease, to modeling the effects of climate change on fisheries stock assessment. The research is broad, multi-disciplinary, geographically diverse and involves many partners. The goal of the centers is to improve the scientific basis upon which coastal managers make decisions.

NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science:

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