Restoration of oyster reefs in an estuarine lake: population dynamics and shell accretion
Restoration activities inherently depend on understanding the spatial and temporal variation in basic demographic rates of the species of interest. For species that modify and maintain their own habitat such as the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica, understanding demographic rates and their impacts on population and habitat success are crucial to ensuring restoration success. We measured oyster recruitment, density, size distribution, biomass, mortality and Perkinsus marinus infection intensity quarterly for 3 yr on shallow intertidal reefs created with shell cultch in March 2009. All reefs were located within Sister Lake, LA. Reefs were placed in pairs at 3 different locations within the lake; pairs were placed in low and medium energy sites within each location. Restored reefs placed within close proximity (<8 km) experienced very different development trajectories; there was high inter-site and inter-annual variation in recruitment and mortality of oysters, with only slight variation in growth curves. Despite this high variation in population dynamics, all reefs supported dense oyster populations (728 ± 102 ind. m-2) and high live oyster biomass (>14.6 kg m-2) at the end of 3 yr. Shell accretion, on average, exceeded estimated rates required to keep pace with local subsidence and shell loss. Variation in recruitment, growth and survival drives local site-specific population success, which highlights the need to understand local water quality, hydrodynamics, and metapopulation dynamics when planning restoration.