Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Rethinking the Freshwater Eel: Salt Marsh Trophic Support of the American Eel, Anguilla rostrata


Despite the fact that Anguilla rostrata (American eel) are frequently captured in salt marshes, their role in salt marsh food webs and the influence of human impacts, such as tidal restrictions, on this role remains unclear. To better understand salt marsh trophic support of A. rostrata, eels were collected from tidally restricted and unrestricted salt marsh creeks within three New England estuaries. Gut contents were examined, and eel muscle tissue was analyzed for carbon and nitrogen stable isotope values and entered into MixSir mixing models to understand if salt marsh food sources are important contributors to eel diet. Data suggest that eel prey rely heavily on salt marsh organic matter and eels utilize salt marsh secondary production as an energetic resource over time, and thus can be considered salt marsh residents. Gut contents indicate that A. rostrata function as top predators, feeding primarily on secondary consumers including other fish species, crustaceans, and polychaetes. Higher A. rostrata trophic position measured upstream of reference creeks suggests that severe tidal restrictions may result in altered food webs, but it is not clear how this impacts the overall fitness of A. rostrata populations in New England salt marshes.


Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Natural Resources and the Environment

Publication Date


Journal Title

Estuaries and Coasts



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type



© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2015