Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Rochelle D. Seitz

Committee Member

John Brubaker

Committee Member

Mary C. Fabrizio

Committee Member

Mark W. Luckenbach


In the Chesapeake Bay, < 1% of the historic oyster population remains, and efforts have been increasing to restore oysters and the services they provide. Building reefs that successfully provide ecosystem services–especially habitat and foraging grounds–may require different restoration techniques than those previously used, and success may depend on reef morphology (complexity), location, and environmental conditions. Salinity and habitat complexity are two important factors that may interact to effect benthic communities and predator-prey interactions on restored reefs. The goals of this project were: (1) Characterize the benthic communities on restored oyster reefs in lower Chesapeake Bay, and (2) examine the effects of structural complexity and salinity on benthic communities and predator-prey interactions. A two-year field survey of restored reefs was carried out in four rivers in lower Chesapeake Bay to characterize faunal communities on restored reefs and to quantify the effect of reef complexity on faunal communities. A laboratory mesocosm experiment was conducted to examine the effect of reef complexity on predator foraging. In total, 61 macrofaunal species were identified among all samples, and restored reefs supported on average, 6,169 org/m2 and 67.88 g-AFDW/m2. There were significant differences in the community composition and diversity among the rivers, and salinity was the environmental factor that best explained the observed differences in species composition across the rivers. Salinity and rugosity (i.e., structural complexity) both positively affected diversity, while salinity negatively affected macrofaunal abundance and biomass. Oyster density and rugosity positively affected macrofaunal biomass, and oyster density positively affected mud crab, polychaete, and mussel densities. In the mesocosm experiment, predator foraging, measured by proportion and number of prey consumed, was significantly reduced in the presence of oyster shell structure. However, predators were able to consume more prey when prey density was increased, even in the presence of oyster shell structure. These results combine to enhance our understanding of the benefits of increased habitat complexity for both prey and predators on restored oyster reefs. Increasing complexity worked to increase the abundance, biomass, and diversity of organisms inhabiting restored reefs, and even though predator consumption was reduced in the presence of structure compared to non-structured habitat, predators were able to consume more prey individuals when prey density was increased. Therefore, increasing the structure of oyster reef habitat may benefit prey species by providing refuge habitat, and benefit predators by providing an increased abundance of available prey items.



© The Author