NOAA Magazine || NOAA Home Page

Grass Shrimp May Become a Leading Coastal Ecological Indicator

NOAA image of male and female grass shrimp.August 15, 2006 The NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science published a review in the journal Environmental Bioindicators stressing the importance of grass shrimp (Palaemonetes species) as an indicator of human impacts on estuaries and the coastal environment. (Click NOAA image for larger view of male and female grass shrimp. Please credit “NOAA.”)

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.

NOAA image of grass shrimp."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." (Click NOAA image for larger view of grass shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio). Please credit “NOAA.”)

These findings, published August 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.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

NOAA Ocean Service

Media Contact:
Daniel Parry, NOAA Ocean Service, (301) 713-3066