Diel and tidal cycles regulate larval dynamics in salt marshes and mangrove forests
Variation in the release and recruitment of larvae of estuarine invertebrates affects the distribution and abundance of adults, as well as trophic interactions in both the plankton and the benthos. Larval release and supply are often timed to environmental cycles such as the diel and tidal cycles. Here, we determined using plankton tows whether the abundance of larvae spanning salt marsh and mangrove habitats across the intertidal landscape varied with diel and tidal cycles. Using three different sampling designs across two sites and within each of two estuaries over a 12-month period, we covered a range of spatial and temporal scales. This allowed us to test the general prediction that densities of meroplankton in the water column would be greater during nocturnal ebb tides than during other phases of the diel or tidal cycle. As predicted, nocturnal ebb tides yielded the highest densities of meroplanktonic larvae and were dominated by first-stage crab zoeae and this finding was most pronounced in the salt marsh. Throughout the course of the year, greater numbers of meroplankters consistently occurred during the ebb tide compared with the flood tide. The densities of other taxa (e.g. gastropods and polychaetes) showed no clear trends with diel or tidal cycles. This study highlights the effects of these pervasive physical cycles on the timing of larval release and supply in the salt marsh-mangrove complex, and emphasises their contribution to the trophic interactions and the dynamics of benthic populations within estuaries.