Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Roger L. Mann


Restoration of oyster reef structures rehabilitates habitats and the multi-level ecological communities built on eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica), the keystone species. Quantitative descriptions of ecological interactions within a habitat are required to delineate essential fish habitats for management and protection. Parallel development of primary (oysters) and secondary trophic levels (benthic fishes) offer an ecological metric of restoration progress over time. The interaction between larval oysters and larval fishes (e.g., Gobiosoma bosc, Chasmodes bosquianus) is quantitatively examined. Oyster settlement estimates for Palace Bar reef, Piankatank River, Virginia are of the same order of magnitude as field densities of recently settled oysters. Benthic fish settlement estimates are within an order of magnitude of observed adult densities. Zooplankton community composition around the reef is temporally variable and plankton densities range from 10 2--106 animals per m3 across temporal scales. Nocturnal densities of naked goby and striped blenny larvae around Palace Bar reef were 3 to 4 orders of magnitude higher than densities observed during daylight hours. Diurnal changes in larval fish abundance near Palace Bar reef are related to ambient light intensities and diurnal vertical migration by prey species. Naked goby, striped blenny, and feather blenny (Hypsoblennius hentzi) larvae selectively consumed bivalve veligers, in multi-factorial laboratory feeding experiments. Temporal co-occurrence of larval oysters and larval fishes was not observed in 1996 field collections although historic oyster settlement data strongly support the probability of co-occurrence during most years. Two different methods are used to estimate the larval oyster - larval fish interaction in the absence of field data. Given existing oyster and fish demographics on Palace Bar reef, larval fishes have the capacity to drastically reduce, perhaps eliminate, local veliger populations if they co-occur. The strength of this interaction is directly related to oyster demography-fecundity relationships. In the absence of veligers, larval fishes consume other plankton taxa that are abundant around the reef. Naked gobies and striped blennies are generalists. Oyster reefs provide optimal rather than essential habitat. Reef restoration will facilitate development of related ecological communities by providing optimal habitat conditions for these ubiquitous estuarine species.



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