Prey availability is one of the most important factors affecting the quality of nursery grounds. Estuaries play an important role as nursery grounds for juvenile stone flounder, but the mechanism behind the consistently high availability of prey has never been examined. This study investigates which prey is mainly selected by juvenile stone flounder (15-55 mm standard length) in the estuary of the Natori River, northern Japan. In a cage experiment, juveniles showed positive selection for the palps of the spionid polychaete Pseudopolydora kempi in March, and for the siphons of the bivalve Nuttallia olivacea in April, May and June in both sandy and muddy-sand habitats. This selective predation showed that sublethal predation on regenerable parts of invertebrates is important for stone flounder. Nuttallia olivacea, the dominant bivalve in the estuary, was more abundant and in better somatic condition in the sandy area in spite of the stronger siphon-cropping pressure by juvenile stone flounder. These results confirm that sublethal predation on highly abundant benthos plays an important role in forming estuarine habitats into areas of high prey availability for juvenile stone flounder, which leads to their high growth rate.
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