How does a restored oyster reef develop? An assessment based on stable isotopes and community metrics
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Oyster reefs host complex food webs, as their three-dimensional biogenic structure provides habitat for a diverse range of invertebrates and fish. Oyster reefs have suffered severe degradation due to anthropogenic activities. Restoration projects aim to mitigate this habitat loss. We compared the development of a restored subtidal oyster reef to that of a natural reef for 29 months by assessing (1) community metrics (e.g., biomass, diversity), (2) the stable isotope composition of food sources and consumers, and (3) biomass-weighted isotopic diversity indices. A clear shift in restored reef community composition occurred 12–15 months after restoration, moving from a community dominated by opportunistic species to a more diverse and evenly distributed community, similar to that of the natural reef. Consumer stable isotope values indicated that the restored reef community was supported by similar food resources and had similar food chain length as the natural reef community by 5-month post-restoration. However, biomass-weighted isotopic diversity indices indicated that the magnitude of the main trophic pathways and characteristics of food web complexity in the restored reef did not recover to natural reef levels until 12–15 months after construction. The functional recovery of the restored reef community was driven by the homogenization of biomass distribution among trophic compartments as oysters and top predators increasingly colonized the reef. Results indicate that oyster reef restoration can support food web functions like those provided by natural reefs. We also demonstrate the importance of combining food web and community structure information in the study of ecological functioning.
KeywordsShell Height Suspension Feeder Oyster Reef Natural Reef Suspend Particulate Organic Matter
Funding for this project was provided by FishAmerica Foundation and the NOAA Community-Based Restoration Program (Grant No. FAF-11030), the Texas General Land Office Coastal Management Program, and The Ruth Campbell Fellowship at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The authors gratefully acknowledge Patrick Graham, Kevin De Santiago, Eric White, Gaël Guillou, and Dr. Paula Rose for their assistance in the field and the laboratory, Dr. Kim Withers for assistance with species identification, and Dr. Blair Sterba-Boatwright for statistical guidance. We also thank four anonymous reviewers for providing insights and suggestions that greatly improved the quality of this study.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.
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