Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2006-05


Oyster-sea nettle interdependence and altered control within the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.




Breitburg, DL; Fulford, RS


Estuaries and Coasts 29(5):776-784


Research on the effects of declining abundances of the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) in Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries has primarily focused on the role of oysters in filtration and nutrient dynamics, and as habitat for fish or fish prey. Oysters also play a key role in providing substrate for the overwintering polyp stage of the scyphomedusa sea nettle, Chrysaora quinquecirrha, which is an important consumer of zooplankton, ctenophores, and icthyoplankton. Temporal trends in sea nettle abundances in visual counts from the dock at Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, trawls conducted in the mesohaline portion of the Patuxent River, and published data from the mainstem Chesapeake Bay indicate that sea nettles declined in the mid 1980s when overfishing and increased disease mortality led to sharp decreases in oyster landings and abundance. Climate trends, previously associated with interannual variation in sea nettle abundances, do not explain the sharp decline. A potentially important consequence of declining sea nettle abundances may be an increase in their ctenophore prey (Mnemiopsis leidyi), and a resultant increase in predation on icthyoplankton and oyster larvae. Increased predation on oyster larvae by ctenophores may inhibit recovery of oyster populations and reinforce the current low abundance of oysters in Chesapeake Bay.

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