Original Paper


, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 449-459

First online:

Informing Olympia Oyster Restoration: Evaluation of Factors That Limit Populations in a California Estuary

  • Kerstin WassonAffiliated withElkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve Email author 

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The goal of this investigation was to inform restoration strategies by determining which factors are most important in limiting Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida) distribution and abundance at a Pacific coast estuary, Elkhorn Slough in central California, where Olympia oysters are currently extremely rare but were formerly abundant. An array of mensurative experiments and correlative analyses were used to examine the role of potential limiting factors. Absence of oysters was associated with symptoms of eutrophication, including elevated nutrient concentrations and turbidity. Oysters were also absent from all sites where water control structures resulted in minimal tidal exchange. Predation and competition did not appear to play a major role in surveyed oyster populations above Mean Lower Low Water but at lower elevations oysters were heavily fouled by non-native species. In most sites oysters were found only on large artificial substrates; survival on small natural hard substrates was apparently precluded by burial by fine sediments. Restoring more natural ecosystem processes by reducing nutrient and sediment inputs, increasing tidal exchange to areas behind water control structures, and preventing establishment of new non-native species would benefit Olympia oysters as well as support broader ecosystem-based management goals.


Ecosystem-based management Elkhorn Slough Ostrea lurida Water quality