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Keywords:

  • community-based restoration;
  • Crassostrea virginica;
  • mussels;
  • oyster reefs;
  • xanthid crabs

Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) habitat is increasingly being restored for the ecosystem services it provides rather than solely as a fishery resource. Community-based projects with the goal of ecological restoration have successfully constructed oyster reefs; however, the habitat benefits of these restoration efforts are usually not assessed or reported. In this study, we examined oyster habitat development at five community-based oyster restoration sites in South Carolina using oyster population parameters, resident fauna densities, and sedimentation (percent sediment coverage) as assessment metrics. All sites included multiple-aged reefs (1–3 years old) at the time of the fall 2004 sampling. Resident crabs and mussels were abundant at all five sites and crab assemblages were related to the size structure of the oyster microhabitat. Scorched mussel (Brachidontes exustus) abundances were most frequently correlated with oyster and other resident species abundances. Associations among oysters and resident crabs and mussels were not evident when analyses were conducted with higher level taxonomic groupings (e.g., total number of crabs, mussels, or oysters), indicating that species-level identifications improve our understanding of interactions among reef inhabitants and oyster populations. Community-based restoration sites in South Carolina provide habitat for mussels and resident crabs, in some cases in the absence of dense populations of relatively large oysters. Monitoring programs that neglect species-level identifications and counts of mussels and crabs may underestimate the successful habitat provision that can arise independent of large, dense oyster assemblages.