Marine Science Faculty Publications

Diminishing Returns in Habitat Restoration by Adding Biogenic Materials: a Test Using Estuarine Oysters and Recycled Oyster Shell

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ecosystem-level restoration, estuarine salinization, larval recruitment, predation threshold hypothesis, restoration metrics, structural complexity

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Restoration of degraded estuarine oyster reefs typically involves deploying recycled oyster shell. In low-salinity, low-predation areas of estuaries, high-volume shell deployments are known to improve flow conditions and thus oyster survival and growth. It is also hypothesized that the physical structure of restored reefs could suppress foraging by oyster predators in high-salinity, high-predation zones. That hypothesis is untested. Given limited resources, it is important to determine how much shell is needed for successful restoration and whether there are diminishing returns in shell addition. In Apalachicola Bay, Florida, we manipulated shell volume on an oyster reef to create three 0.4 ha areas of low (no shell addition), moderate (153 m3 shell), and high (306 m3 shell) habitat structure. We repeated experiments and surveys over 2 years to determine if restoration success increased with habitat structure. Predation on oysters was greater on the non-shelled area than on the reshelled reefs, but similar between the two reshelled reefs. Oyster larval supply did not differ among the reef areas, but by the end of the experiment, oyster density (per unit area) increased quadratically with habitat structure, plateauing at high levels of structure. Model selection indicated that the most parsimonious explanation for these patterns was that increased habitat structure reduced predation and increased overall recruitment, but that the higher reshelling treatment did not have better outcomes than moderate reshelling. Thus, restoration could be optimized by deploying a moderate amount of shell per unit area.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Restoration Ecology, v. 28, issue 6, p. 1633-1642