Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2014-02


The relationship between interannual climate variability and juvenile eastern oyster abundance at a regional scale in Chesapeake Bay.




Kimmel, DG; Tarnowski, M; Newell, RIE


North American Journal of Fisheries Management
34 ( 1 ) : 1 - 15




The eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is an important ecological and commercial species along the Eastern Seaboard of North America, although its abundance in Chesapeake Bay (Maryland and Virginia) has declined precipitously since the mid-1800s. Management activities, including efforts to enhance larval settlement, to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay eastern oyster population have met with limited success. Since 1939, juvenile oyster abundance has been measured at oyster bars in the northern portion of Chesapeake Bay. Prior analyses of those data indicate that juvenile oyster abundance is influenced by environmental conditions, which are related to regional climate. We quantified a regional scale (1,000km(2)) climate signal using a synoptic climatology approach by identifying predominant weather patterns. We related these weather patterns to Susquehanna River freshwater discharge, a major influencing factor on Chesapeake Bay salinity, and the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI), an indicator of the overall wetness or dryness of a given region. We developed path analysis models that linked weather patterns to Susquehanna River discharge and thence to either the PHDI or ambient salinity and water temperature and finally to juvenile oyster abundance in one of four preidentified spatial groupings. The path models indicated that weather patterns that produce wet conditions, leading to a higher PHDI and lower salinity, resulted in reduced juvenile oyster abundance; weather patterns that produce dry conditions that decreased the PHDI and increased salinity resulted in higher juvenile oyster abundance. Our results indicate that regions of higher juvenile oyster abundance may be predicted several months in advance using the path model. These predictions can be used to increase the effectiveness of oyster restoration efforts by indicating where hard substrate added to oyster bars in the four regions is likely to result in greater than average numbers of juvenile oysters.

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