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Salt marshes are widely believed to serve as nurseries for many fishes and crustaceans of fishery value as a result of the high production of vascular plant detritus and the protection from predation offered by shallow, spatially complex habitats. Comparisons of the yields of species which reside in salt marsh habitats during critical life history stages (such as penaeid shrimp) with the area of such habitats and their greater densities in flooded marshes and associated tidal creeks support the premise that marshes enhance the yield of such species. A range of evidence, including the amount of detrital export from marshes, the poor nutritive value of vascular plant detritus, and natural diets, casts doubt on the notion that production of fishery species is based on the direct consumption of marsh grass detritus or predominantly on food chains based on this detritus. Vascular plants and associated algae may, however, contribute to the production of prey species. The limited observations available support the hypothesis that salt marshes offer significant escape from mortality due to predation, but there have been yet few experimental tests of this hypothesis.

Knowledge of relative importance of the food and refuge functions in support of living resources is of practical value in marsh and fisheries management. Better understanding of these roles is important to the effective evaluation of the effects of coastal habitat modifications on fisheries resources and design of alterations to minimize the losses of these values.

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