Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Frontiers in Marine Science
Restoration strategies for native oyster populations rely on multiple sources of information, which often conflict due to time- and space-varying patterns in abundance and distribution. For instance, strategies based on population connectivity and disease resistance can differ, and extant and historical records of abundance and distribution are often at odds, such that the optimal strategy is unclear and valuable restoration sites may be excluded from consideration. This was the case for the Lynnhaven River subestuary of lower Chesapeake Bay, which was deemed unsuitable for Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) restoration based on physical conditions, disease challenge, and extant oyster abundance. Consequently, we (i) evaluated previously unknown historical data from the 1800s, (ii) quantified extant oyster recruitment and abundance, physical conditions, and disease presence on constructed restoration reefs and alternative substrates, and (iii) assessed simulations from biophysical models to identify potential restoration sites in the metapopulation. The collective data distinguished numerous restoration sites (i) in the polyhaline zone (salinity 18.4–22.2) where disease resistance is evolving, (ii) where oysters were abundant in the late 1800s-early 1900s, (iii) of recent high recruitment, abundance and survival, despite consistent and elevated disease challenge, and (iv) interconnected as a metapopulation via larval dispersal. Moreover, a network of constructed restoration reefs met size structure, abundance and biomass standards of restoration success. These findings demonstrate that assumptions about the suitability of sites for oyster restoration based on individual processes can be severely flawed, and that in-depth examination of multiple processes and sources of information are required for oyster reef restoration plans to maximize success. We use these findings and previous information to recommend a strategy for successful restoration of subtidal oyster reefs throughout the range of the Eastern Oyster.
Lipcius, Rom; Burke, Russell P.; McCulloch, Danielle N.; Schreiber, Sebastian J.; Schulte, David M.; Seitz, RD; and Shen, Jian, Overcoming restoration paradigms: value of the historical record and metapopulation dynamics in native oyster restoration (2015). Frontiers in Marine Science.