Fish Utilization of Created vs. Natural Oyster Reefs (Crassostrea virginica)

Abstract

Once viewed as an inexhaustible fishery resource, eastern oyster reefs (Crassostrea virginica) have been dramatically depleted. In North Carolina alone, eastern oyster harvests have declined by 90% since the early 1900s. However, eastern oyster restoration and management efforts have substantially increased since the 1970s. Oyster reefs provide habitat and refuge for organisms, improve water quality, and decrease erosion. Oyster restoration projects aim to construct reefs that function similarly to their natural counterparts. Therefore, post-creation monitoring of these reefs is crucial in determining restoration success. However, monitoring is often lacking or focused only on oyster density and size rather than ecosystem functions such as nekton utilization. This study examines nekton utilization among created reefs compared to natural reefs in an estuary in Wilmington, North Carolina. The objective was to determine whether the created reefs function similarly to the natural reefs in abundance, species richness, and fish size. Using seine nets and Breder traps, reefs were sampled over a 5-month period. No significant difference was detected among reefs for nekton abundance, species richness, and standard length. This is a promising result for future management, indicating that created and natural reefs can support similar communities of fishes and shrimp.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my mentors and committee members, Troy Alphin and Martin Posey, for their support over the past 4 years and guidance over this project. I would also like to thank Donald Buth for his editorial assistance and Noa Pinter-Wollman for her statistical insight. I am also grateful to the many undergraduate field assistants who aided in field sampling and Thomas Lankford for confirming fish identifications. I would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editor for providing detailed notes and necessary improvements to this manuscript. Lastly, I would like to thank my family: Tamara Rutledge, Glenn Rutledge, Hollie Rutledge, and Derek Kirkbride for supporting me throughout my scientific career.

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Correspondence to Kelsi M. Rutledge.

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Communicated by Nathan Waltham

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Rutledge, K.M., Alphin, T. & Posey, M. Fish Utilization of Created vs. Natural Oyster Reefs (Crassostrea virginica). Estuaries and Coasts 41, 2426–2432 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-018-0433-4

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Keywords

  • Restoration
  • Intertidal
  • Management
  • Estuary
  • Ecosystem services