Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Frontiers in Marine Science


Habitat suitability index (HSI) models provide spatially explicit information on the capacity of a given habitat to support a species of interest, and their prevalence has increased dramatically in recent years. Despite caution that the reliability of HSIs must be validated using independent, quantitative data, most HSIs intended to inform terrestrial and marine species management remain unvalidated. Furthermore, of the eight HSI models developed for eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) restoration and fishery production, none has been validated. Consequently, we developed, calibrated, and validated an HSI for the eastern oyster to identify optimal habitat for restoration in a tributary of Chesapeake Bay, the Great Wicomico River (GWR). The GWR harbors a high density, restored oyster population, and therefore serves as an excellent model system for assessing the validity of the HSI. The HSI was derived from GIS layers of bottom type, salinity, and water depth (surrogate for dissolved oxygen), and was tested using live adult oyster density data from a survey of high vertical relief reefs (HRR) and low vertical relief reefs (LRR) in the sanctuary network. Live adult oyster density was a statistically-significant sigmoid function of the HSI, which validates the HSI as a robust predictor of suitable oyster reef habitat for rehabilitation or restoration. In addition, HRR had on average 103–116 more adults m−2 than LRR at a given level of the HSI. For HRR, HSI ≥ 0.3 exceeded the accepted restoration target of 50 live adult oysters m−2. For LRR, the HSI was generally able to predict live adult oyster densities that meet or exceed the target at HSI ≥ 0.3. The HSI indicated that there remain large areas of suitable habitat for restoration in the GWR. This study provides a robust framework for HSI model development and validation, which can be refined and applied to other systems and previously developed HSIs to improve the efficacy of native oyster restoration.