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Keywords:

  • Crassostrea virginica;
  • habitat complexity;
  • oyster reefs

Abstract

Efforts to restore the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) reef habitats in Chesapeake Bay typically begin with the placement of hard substrata to form three-dimensional mounds on the seabed to serve as a base for oyster recruitment and growth. A shortage of oyster shell for creating large-scale reefs has led to widespread use of other materials such as Surf clamshell (Spisula solidissima), as a substitute for oyster shell. Oyster recruitment, survival, and growth were monitored on intertidal reefs constructed from oyster and Surf clamshell near Fisherman’s Island, Virginia, U.S.A. and on a subtidal Surf clamshell reef in York River, Virginia, U.S.A. At the intertidal reefs, oyster larvae settlement occurred at similar levels on both substrate types throughout the monitoring period but higher levels of post-settlement mortality occurred on clamshell reefs. The oyster shell reef supported greater oyster growth and survival and offered the highest degree of structural complexity. On the subtidal clamshell reef, the quality of the substrate varied with reef elevation. Large shell fragments and intact valves were scattered around the reef base, whereas small, tightly packed shell fragments paved the crest and flank of the reef mound. Oysters were more abundant and larger at the base of this reef and less abundant and smaller on the reef crest. The availability of interstitial space and appropriate settlement surfaces is hypothesized to account for the observed differences in oyster abundance across the reef systems. Patterns observed emphasize the importance of appropriate substrate selection for restoration activities to enhance natural recovery where an underlying habitat structure is destroyed.