Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2010-19


A comparison of Crassostrea virginica and C. ariakensis in Chesapeake Bay: does oyster species affect habitat function?




Harwell, HD; Kingsley-Smith, PR; Kellogg, ML; Allen, SM; Allen, SK; Meritt, DW; Paynter, KT; Luckenbach, MW


Journal of Shellfish Research 29(2):253-269




We examined the possibility that a nonnative oyster species would provide an ecologically functional equivalent of the native oyster species if introduced into the Chesapeake Bay. Habitat complexity and associated benthic communities of experimental triploid Crassostrea virginica and Crassostrea ariakensis reefs were investigated at 4 sites of varying salinity, tidal regime, water depth, predation intensity, and disease pressure in the Chesapeake Bay region (Maryland and Virginia). Four experimental treatments were established at each site: C. virginica, C. ariakensis, 50:50 of C. virginica and C. ariakensis, and shell only. Abundance, biomass, species richness, evenness, dominance, and diversity of reef-associated fauna were evaluated in relation to habitat location and oyster species. Although habitat complexity varied with location, no differences among complexity were associated with oyster species. Similarly, differences in faunal assemblages were more pronounced between sites than within sites. Our results show functional equivalency between oyster species with respect to habitat at the intertidal site and the low-salinity subtidal location. At subtidal sites of higher salinity, however, the numbers of organisms associated with C. virginica reefs per unit of oyster biomass were significantly greater than the numbers of organisms associated with C. ariakensis reefs. Multivariate analyses of data from subtidal high-salinity sites revealed unique communities associated with C. virginica treatments, whereas mixed-oyster species assemblages were functionally equivalent to monospecific C. ariakensis experimental treatments. Our study represents the first effort to quantify the potential habitat function of C. ariakensis, which has been proposed for an intentional introduction into Chesapeake Bay, and provides evidence of species-specific similarities and differences in reef-associated communities.

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