Using reproductive potential to assess oyster population sustainability

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© 2020 Society for Ecological Restoration Ensuring that oysters remain sustainable in the face of significant coastal restoration activities, high local subsidence rates, and predicted sea-level rise requires a deeper understanding of basic population demographics, including reproductive potential. We quantified fecundity (eggs ind−1) of oysters at high- and low-salinity sites during a fall and spring spawn season. We assessed the relationships between oyster size, the relative proportion of females across size classes, and fecundity. Finally, we quantified reproductive potential (eggs m−2) of an engineered reef by connecting fecundity with annual oyster population demographic data as a means to assess population sustainability. The proportion of females generally increased with shell height, achieving a population with >50% females in Biloxi oysters >75 mm, and Grand Isle oysters >100 mm. Fecundity across both sites and seasons ranged from approximately 2,000 to >55 million eggs oyster−1. Mean fecundity generally increased with shell height, varying significantly by site, with Grand Isle (high salinity) oysters having greater fecundity than Biloxi (low salinity) oysters. Fecundity did not differ by season. Mean reproductive potential (eggs m−2) was driven by density and size distribution. Reefs with high densities and higher counts of market-sized oysters had reproductive potentials 5× greater than those with low densities and low counts of juvenile oysters. With increasing changes in water quality from coastal management and climate, impacts on oyster reproduction may critically impact population sustainability. Reproductive potential provides critical data to assess individual reef ecosystem services, and to assess the potential for maintenance of local metapopulations.

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Restoration Ecology

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