Alternate Title

An Evaluation of Mississippi Barrier Islands as a Spawning and Nesting Habitat for the American Horseshoe Crab, Limulus polyphemus, with Implications for Island Restoration

Document Type



The American horseshoe crab (HSC), Limulus polyphemus, is an economically and ecologically important species in the coastal ecosystem. Horseshoe crabs inhabit the continental shelf and estuaries from Maine to the central Gulf Coast and the Yucatán Peninsula. Although the presence of horseshoe crabs in southern Mississippi is known locally, there are limited data specific to the area and population, particularly regarding spawning and nesting habitat. Surveys of HSC presence, habitat use, and behavior on Mississippi barrier islands were conducted between March and November 2007 to 2009. These data, combined with habitat surveys of the barrier islands, were used to characterize HSC use of these islands. Horseshoe crabs were present on barrier island beaches from March to November, but active spawning and nesting occurred primarily in April and May. Peak abundance varied by year but not between islands surveyed. Nesting activity was only observed on the north side of both islands and was generally clustered in areas with a mild elevation profile. In comparison to other studied populations both in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and along the U.S. Atlantic coast, HSC nesting on Mississippi barrier islands followed generally similar patterns, but did display some important differences. Nesting was highest in low energy, well oxygenated habitat, which included the sub-tidal sand flats that are common along these islands. In addition, HSC are smaller than the range-wide mean reported in the literature, but that may be related to these islands being close to the edge of the reported HSC range in the GOM. The continued existence of HSC in Mississippi appears tied to their preference for barrier island beaches as spawning and nursery habitat. More research is needed, but this study documents that the distribution of HSC nesting habitat includes Mississippi beaches and this should be considered as a part of restoration plans being evaluated for these barrier islands.

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