Estimates of the abundance of American horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) are important to determine egg production and to manage populations for the energetic needs of shorebirds that feed on horseshoe crab eggs. In 2003, over 17,500 horseshoe crabs were tagged and released throughout Delaware Bay, and recaptured crabs came from spawning surveys that were conducted during peak spawning. We used two release cohorts to test for a temporary effect of tagging on spawning behavior and we adjusted the number of releases according to relocation rates from a telemetry study. The abundance estimate was 20 million horseshoe crabs (90% confidence interval: 13-28 million), of which 6.25 million (90% CI: 4.0-8.8 million) were females. The combined harvest rate for Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland in 2003 was 4% (90% CI: 3-6%) of the abundance estimate. Over-wintering of adults in Delaware Bay could explain, in part, differences in estimates from ocean-trawl surveys. Based on fecundity of 88,000 eggs per female, egg production was 5.5??1011 (90% CI: 3.5??1011, 7.7??1011), but egg availability for shorebirds also depended on overlap between horseshoe crab and shorebird migrations, density-dependent bioturbation, and wave-mediated vertical transport.
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Abundance of adult horseshoe crabs (Limulus polylphemus) in Delaware Bay estimated from a bay-wide mark-recapture study