, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 1015–1024 | Cite as

Nekton use of subtidal oyster shell habitat in a Southeastern U.S. estuary

  • Richard L. Lehnert
  • Dennis M. Allen


Subtidal accumulations of oyster shell have been largely overlooked as essential habitat for estuarine nekton. In southeastern U.S. estuaries, where oyster reef development is mostly confined to the intertidal zone, eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) shell covered bottoms are often the only significant source of hard subtidal structure. We characterized and quantified nekton use of submerged shell rubble bottoms, and compared it to use of intertidal reefs and other subtidal bottoms in the North Inlet estuary, South Carolina. Replicate trays (0.8 m2) filled with shell rubble were deployed in shallow salt marsh creeks, and were retrieved after soak times of 1 to 25 days from May 1998 to March 2000. Thirty six species of fishes, representing 21 families, were identified from the 455 tray collections. Water temperature, salinity, soak time and the presence of a shell substrate all affected the catch of fishes in the trays. Catches during the warmer months were two to five times greater than those during the winter. Fishes were present in 98% of the trays with an overall average of 5.7 fish m−2. The assemblage was numerically dominated by small resident species including naked goby (Gobiosoma bose), oyster toadfish (Opsanus tau), and crested blenny (Hypleurochilus geminatus). Transient species accounted for 23% of all individuals and 62% of the total biomass due to the presence of relatively large sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus) and black sea bass (Centropristis striata). Both the transient and resident species displayed distinct periods of recruitment and rapid growth from April to October. Lower abundances of juvenile gobies and blennies during 1998 were attributed to long periods of depressed salinity caused by high rainfall associated with El Niño conditions in spring. Crabs and shrimps, which were often more abundant than the fishes, accounted for comparable biomass in the tray collections. In comparisons of subtidal tray and trawl catches, trays yielded 10 to 1,000 fold higher densities of some demersal fish groups. Comparisons of intertidal and subtidal gear catches indicated that many species remain in the subtidal shell bottom at all stages of the tide. This study suggests that subtidal shell bottom may be essential fish habitat for juvenile seabass, groupers, and snappers and that it may be the primary habitat for a diverse assemblage of ecologically important resident fishes and crustaceans. Given the high levels of nekton use and the areal extent of oyster shell bottoms in eastern U.S. and Gulf estuaries, increased attention to protection and restoration of these areas appears justified.


Oyster Shell Oyster Reef Crassostrea Virginica Eastern Oyster Naked Goby 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Literature Cited

  1. Able, K., M. Fahay, andG. Shepherd. 1995. Early life history of black sea bass,Centropristis striata (Linnaeus) in a southern New Jersey estuary.Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 13:153–167.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, D. M. andD. L. Barker. 1990. Interannual variations in larval fish recruitment to estuarine epibenthic habitats.Marine Ecology Progress Series 63:113–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arve, J. 1960. Preliminary report on attracting fish by oyster shell plantings in Chincoteague Bay, Maryland.Chesapeake Science 1:58–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bahr, L. M. andW. P. Lanier. 1981. The Ecology of Intertidal Oyster Reefs of the South Atlantic Coast: A Community Profile. FWS/OBS-81/15. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  5. Beckman, D. W., A. L. Stanley, J. H. Render, andC. A. Wilson. 1990. Age and growth-rate estimation of sheepsheadArchosargus probatocephalus in Louisiana waters using otoliths.Fishery Bulletin U.S. 89:1–8.Google Scholar
  6. Breitburg, D. L. 1999. Are three-dimensional structure and healthy oyster populations the keys to an ecologically interesting and important fish community? p. 239–249.In M. W. Luckenbach, R. Mann, and J. A. Wesson (eds.). Oyster Reef Habitat Restoration: A Synopsis and Synthesis of Approaches. Virginia Institute of Marine Science Press, Williamsburg, Virginia.Google Scholar
  7. Breitburg, D. L., M. A. Palmer, andT. Loher. 1995. Larval distributions and the spatial patterns of settlement of an oyster reef fish: Responses to flow and structure.Marine Ecology Progress Series 125:45–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chrzanowski, T. H., L. H. Stevenson, andJ. D. Spurrier. 1982. Transport of particulate organic carbon through the North Inlet ecosystem.Marine Ecology Progress Series 7:231–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coen, L. D., M. W. Luckenbach, andD. L. Bretturg. 1999. The role of oyster reefs as essential fish habitat: A review of current knowledge and some new perspectives.American Fisheries Society Symposium 22:438–454.Google Scholar
  10. Crabtree, R. E. 1978. A comparison of two South Carolina tide pool fish communities in relation to temperature and tidal elevation. M.S. Thesis, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.Google Scholar
  11. Crabtree, R. E. andD. P. Middaugh. 1982. Oyster shell size and the selection of spawning sites byChasmodes bosquianus, Hypleurochilus geminatus, Hypsoblennius ionthas (Pisces Blenniidae), andGobiosoma bosci (Pisces Gobidae) in two South Carolina estuaries.Estuaries 5:150–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dame, R. T. 1979. The abundance, diversity, and biomass of macrobenthos on North Inlet, South Carolina, intertidal oyster reefs.Proceedings of the National Shellfisheries Association 69:6–10.Google Scholar
  13. Dame, R. T.. 1996. Ecology of marine bivalves: An ecosystem approach. CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, Florida.Google Scholar
  14. Dame, R., T. Chrzanowski, K. Bildstein, B. Kjerfve, H. Mckellar, D. Nelson, J. Spurrier, S. Stancyk, H. Stevenson, J. Vernberg, andR. Zingmark. 1986. The outwelling hypothesis and North Inlet, South Carolina.Marine Ecology Progress Series 33:217–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Giotta, R. 1999. Distribution of American Oysters (Crassostrea virginica) in South Carolina: Interacting effects of predation, sedimentation, and water flow at varying tidal elevations. M.S. Thesis. University of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina.Google Scholar
  16. Harding, J. M.. 1999. Selective feeding behavior of larval naked gobiesGobiosoma bosc and blenniesChasmodes bosquianus andHypsoblennius hentzi: Preference for bivalve veligers.Marine Ecology Progress Series 179:145–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harding, J. M., andR. Mann. 2000. Estimates of naked goby (Gobiosoma bosc), striped blenny (Chasmodes bosquianus) and eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) larval production around a restored Chesapeake Bay oyster reef.Bulletin of Marine Science 66:29–45.Google Scholar
  18. Hayse, J. W.. 1989. Feeding habits, age, growth, and reproduction of Atlantic spadefishChaetodipterus faber (Pisces: Ephippidae) in South Carolina.Fishery Bulletin U.S. 88:67–83.Google Scholar
  19. Jordan, F. andM. Bartolini, C. Nelson, P. Patterson, andH. Soulen. 1996. Risk of predation affects habitat selection by the pinfishLagodon rhomboides (Linneaus).Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 208:45–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kenny, P., W. Michener, andD. Allen. 1990. Spatial and temporal patterns of oyster settlement in a high salinity estuary.Journal of Shellfish Research 9:329–339.Google Scholar
  21. Kjerfve, B., L. H. Stevenson, J. A. Proelhl, T. H. Chrzanowski, andW. M. Kitchens. 1981. Estimation of material fluxes in an estuarine cross section: A critical analysis of spatial measurement density and errors.Limnology and Oceanography 6:325–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kuhlmann, M. L. 1998. Spatial and temporal patterns in the dynamics and use of pen shells (Atrina rigida) as shelters in St. Joseph Bay, Florida.Bulletin of Marine Science 62:157–179.Google Scholar
  23. Lenhan, H. S. 1999. Physial-biological coupling on oyster reefs: How habitat structure influences individual performance.Ecological Monographys 69:251–275.Google Scholar
  24. Lindquist, D. G., M. V. Ogburn, W. B. Stanley, H. L. Troutman, andS. M. Pereira. 1985. Fish utilization patterns on temperature rubble-mound jetties in North Carolina.Bulletin of Marine Science 37:244–251.Google Scholar
  25. Manooch, C. S. 1984. Fishes of the Southeastern Unites, States. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina.Google Scholar
  26. McCullagh, P. andJ. A. Nelder. 1989. Generalized Linear Models, 2nd edition. Chapman and Hall, London, U.K.Google Scholar
  27. Moyle, P. andJ. Cech. 1996. Fishes, An Introduction to Ichthyology, 3rd edition. Prentice-Hall Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  28. Mullaney, M. D. andL. D. Gale. 1996. Ecomorphological relationships in ontogeny: Anatomy and diet in gag.Mycteroperca microlepis (Pisces:Serranidae).Copeia 1996:167–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Neter, J., M. H. Kutner, C. J. Nachtsheim, andW. Wasserman. 1996. Applied Linear Statistical Models, 4th edition. McGraw-Hill, Chicago, Illinois.Google Scholar
  30. Ogburn, M. V.. 1984. Feeding ecology and the role of alage in the diet of SheepsheadArchosargus probatocephalus (Pisces: Sparidae) on two North Carolina jetties. Masters Thesis, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina.Google Scholar
  31. Ogburn, M. V., D. M. Allen, andW. K. Michener. 1988. Fishes, Shrimps, and Crabs of the North Inlet Estuary, South Caiolina: A Four Year Seine and Trawl Survey. Baruch Institute Technical Report. No. 88-1. University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.Google Scholar
  32. Radtke, R. L., M. L. Fine, andJ. Bell. 1985. Somatic and otolith growth in the oyster toadfish (Opsanus tau L.).Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 90:259–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ross, S. W., andM. L. Moser. 1995. Life history of juvenile gag,Mycteroperca microlepis, in North Carolina estuaries.Bulletin of Marine Science 56:222–237.Google Scholar
  34. Rozas, L. P. andT. J. Minello. 1997. Estimating densities of small fishes and decapod crustaceans in shallow estuarine habitats: A review of sampling design with focus on gear selection.Estuaries 20:199–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Runyan, S.. 1961. Early development of the clingfish,Gobiesox strumosus (Cope).Chesapeake Science 2:113–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ruppert, E. E. andR. S. Fox. 1988. Seashore Animals of the Southeast: A Guide to Common Shallow Water Invertebrates of the Southeastern Atlantic Coast. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia South Carolina.Google Scholar
  37. SAS Institute, Inc. 1996, SAS/STAT User’s Guide, version 6.12. Cary, North Carolina.Google Scholar
  38. Shenker, J. M., D. J. Hepner, P. E. Prere, L. E. Currence, andW. W. Wakefield. 1983. Upriver migration and abundance of naked goby (Gobiosoma bosci) larvae in the Patuxent River estuary, Maryland.Estuaries 6:36–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Shulman, M. J. 1985. Recrnitment of coral reef fishes: Effects of distribution of predators and shelter.Ecology 6:1056–1066.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC). 1998. Oyster reefs and shell banks, p. 43–47. Final Habitat Plant for the South Atlantic Region: Management Plans of the South Atlantic Fishery Mangement Council. SAFMC, Charleston, South Carolina.Google Scholar
  41. Stoner, A. 1982. The influence of benthic macrophytes on the foraging behavior of pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides).Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 58:271–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sutter, F. C. andT. D. McIlwain. 1987. Species Profiles: Life Histories and Environmental Requirements of Coastal Fishes and Invertebrates. (Gulf of Mexico)—Pigfish. United States Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report 82 (11). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TR EL-82-4. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg, Mississippi.Google Scholar
  43. Szedlmayer, S. andK. Able. 1996. Patterns of seasonal availability and habitat use by fishes and decapod crustaceans in a southern New Jersey estuary.Estuaries 19:697–709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Van Dolah, R. F., P. H. Wendt, andM. V. Levisen. 1991. A study of the effects of shrimp trawling on benthic communities in two South Carolina sounds.Fisheries Research 12:139–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wells, H. W.. 1961. The fauna of oyster beds, with special reference to the salinity factor.Ecological Monographys 31:239–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wenner, C. A., W. A. Roumillat, J. E. Moran, M. B. Maddox, L. B. Daniel, andJ. W. Smith. 1990. Investigations on the life history and population dynamics of marine recreational fishes in South Carolina: Part 1. Marine Resources Research Institute. Charleston, South Carolina.Google Scholar
  47. Wenner, E., H. R. Beatty, andL. Coen. 1996. A method for quantitatively sampling nekton on intertidal oyster reefs.Journal of Shellfish Research 15:769–775.Google Scholar

Source of Unpublished Materials

  1. McGovern, John. personal communication, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, 217 Fort Johnson Road, P. O. Box 12559, Charleston, North Carolina 29412Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Florida Marine Research InstituteFWCSt. Petersburg
  2. 2.Baruch Marine Field LaboratoryUniversity of South CarolinaGeorgetown

Personalised recommendations