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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences
  • Thomas J Miller
  • (410) 326-7276
Award Date:06/07/2010
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 390,058
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 390,058
  • FY 2011=$127,699
  • FY 2012=$132,741
  • FY 2010=$129,618
Start Date:06/15/2010
End Date:05/31/2014
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.050
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Collaborative Research: The impact of multiple nursery areas and adult age structure on the population dynamics of marine fishes
Federal Award ID Number:0961632
DUNS ID:021463831
Parent DUNS ID:003256088

Awardee Location

Street:BOX 775
Awardee Cong. District:01

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences
Street:BOX 775
Cong. District:01

Abstract at Time of Award

Many marine populations exhibit complex life histories in which larval and juvenile stages are spatially separated from adults. This is the case for many coastal-spawning, estuarine-dependent fishes which utilize multiple estuaries as nursery grounds to ensure that recruitment failure in any single estuary does not translate to total recruitment failure at the population level. For these species, the location and timing of spawning is believed to regulate the pattern of supply of larvae to potential estuarine nursery areas. Furthermore, many of these species exhibit age-dependent coastal migrations which increase in amplitude with age. Thus, there is the potential that changes in the age structure in the population can affect the pattern of supply of larvae to nursery areas and structure the pattern of recruitment. The investigators will carry out an integrated empirical and simulation approach to study the sources, patterns and consequences of larval supply to estuarine nursery areas for Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) along the East Coast of the US. The first goal will be to quantify the contribution of these nursery areas to coast wide recruitment. Juvenile menhaden from nursery areas from Massachusetts to Georgia will be sampled and the microchemical constituents of their otoliths will be characterized. These chemical signatures will be used to assign the nursery affinities of adult menhaden in the coastwide population. The investigators will test the null hypothesis that the Chesapeake Bay remains the most important source of recruits to the population. By determining the nursery affinities of adults from different year classes in the population they will assess whether the contribution of nurseries varies or has shifted over time. The second goal is use a population model linked to an individual-based coupled physical-biological model of recruitment to evaluate whether the known age-dependent migrations of adult menhaden are sufficient to cause the observed shifts in the distribution of larval menhaden that seed potential nursery areas. The simulation model will assist in evaluating mechanisms behind observed changes in the distribution of juvenile menhaden. This work will contribute to the fundamental understanding of the regulation of spatially-structured marine populations. The last decade has seen the range extension of several estuarine-dependent marine species with dispersive larvae and the long-term recruitment decline of others. This integrated research program seeks to explore the effects of population demography, oceanographic circulation, and nursery site diversity on subsequent population dynamics. Given the documented changes in habitat quality in many estuarine nursery areas, and the anticipated impacts of climate change on oceanographic circulation, distributional changes in individual species are likely to become more common. Moreover, given the pivotal role that many estuarine-dependent species play in many marine ecosystems, understanding distributional changes will have direct consequences for the structure and function of the ecosystems to which they belong. The project will also train young scientists in areas of research (quantitative fisheries ecology, physical oceanography) for which there is current a national need.

Publications Produced as a Result of this Research

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Hannigan, R., E. Dorval, and C.M. Jones "Rare Earth Element Chemistry of Estuarine Surface Sediments In the Chesapeake Bay" Chemical Geology, v.272, 2010, p.29.

Schaffler, J. J., T. J. Miller, C. M. Jones "Spatial and temporal variation in otolith chemistry of juvenile Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay" Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, v.143, 2014, p.1061. doi:10.1080/00028487.2014.889748 

Frisk, M. G., A. Jordaan and T. J. Miller "Moving beyond the current paradigm in marine population connectivity: Are adults the missing link?" Fish and Fisheries, v.15, 2014, p.242. doi:10.1111/faf.12014 

Link, J. S., B. A. Megrey, T. J. Miller. T. J., T. E. Essington, J. Boldt, A. Bundy, E. Moksness, K. F. Drinkwater and R. I. Perry. "Comparative analysis of marine ecosystems: International production modeling workshop" Biology Letters, v., 2010, p.. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0526 

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

Atlantic menhaden, hereafter menhaden, has been called the most important fish in the sea as it serves as a prey item for many ecologically and economically important marine mammals, birds and fishes, supports important commercial fisheries and provides key ecosystem services.  Adult menhaden live in the coastal ocean, where they spawning principally during winter months.  Young of year menhaden live in estuaries along the Atlantic seaboard, such as Chesapeake Bay.  We do not understand factors that contribute to annual variation in the numbers of young menhaden.

This project sought to determine how the location at which adults spawned in the ocean affected the spatial and temporal pattern of supply of young menhaden to coastal estuaries.  We developed an individual-based physical-biological model that tracked menhaden from egg to juvenile as they grew and were dispersed by coastal currents.  We used output from an operational physical oceanographic model ( and an existing particle tracking model ( to forecast movement of young menhaden.  We assigned spawning to seven discrete locations in the ocean and tracked recruitment to seven distinct nursery areas (Figure 1) to evaluate the impacts of alternative hypotheses of adult distribution. 

Intellectual Merit: The project greatly advanced our understanding of how processes during the coastal phase impact menhaden abundances.  Results indicated why particular estuaries are key nursery areas for menhaden and the extent to which these key areas may shift as (i) older fish become more common in the population and/or (ii) the coastal ocean warms leading to a northward shift of spawning.  We showed that recruitment of menhaden occurred downstream, generally south of spawning locations, with the exception of Long Island.  We also demonstrated mechanisms underlying the episodic nature of menhaden recruitment. We identified the importance of dispersal in forecasts of when and where young menhaden recruit to estuaries.  Within this framework we explored physical processes including horizontal diffusivity and biological, behavioral processes and found that physical processes dominate.

We also developed a new information theory based approach to understanding the evolutionary advantages of multiple spawning locations and nursery sites.  Using a network model we quantified whether specific spawning locations reliably (% of months and years) or efficiently (% of total recruits) contributed recruits to specific nursery areas.  Some spawning locations were characteristically efficient; others more reliable. But importantly, site-specific efficiency and reliability estimates were highly variable among years, such that identification a priori of an optimal spawning strategy was not possible.

Broader Impacts: Project results have been used to inform management approaches to menhaden.  The projected directly generated 2 manuscripts that have been submitted for publication, 1 will be submitted shortly and 2 additional manuscripts based on our collaboration with Dr. Cynthia Jones (ODU).  The project also resulted in 4 presentations and 1 invited presentations at national and international meetings.  Moreover, the project resulted in the advanced training of one post-doctoral fellow, Erdem Karakoylu who is now employed as a senior application engineer by NASA’s Science and Exploration Directorate in Greenbelt, MD


Last Modified: 03/09/2015
Modified by: Thomas J Miller

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