Virginia Coast Reserve LTER Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Choose a research highlight:

Dynamic Landscapes Bottom Dwellers Marsh Erosion Marshes and Sea Level Rise
Land Cover Distribution Predicting Change Shoreline Change Mobile Mammals Waterbirds
Seagrass Restoration Oyster Restoration Alternative State Dynamics

OYSTER RESTORATION- Large-scale efforts are currently underway to increase populations of the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, within the Virginia coastal bays with the dual goal of restoring native habitat and re-establishing a viable aquaculture industry.

Oysters are voracious filter feeders, removing not only phytoplankton from the water but also suspended sediment. In waters subject to anthropogenic nutrient inputs, this tight coupling between the water column and ocean bottom functions as an ecologically efficient filter. Currently, The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with researchers at the VCR LTER are conducting large-scale efforts to increase populations of the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, within the Virginia coastal bays with the dual goal of restoring native habitat and re-establishing a viable aquaculture industry. These types of efforts have yielded encouraging results in some areas, while recruitment and growth of oysters at other restoration sites has been limited due to high rates of sedimentation. Besides the obvious economic and social benefits obtained from increasing oyster populations, there are additional ecosystem services provided by their active filtration of water masses, which not only remove suspended particulate matter from the water column, but the biodeposition of sediments can also substantially enhance the flux of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus to the benthos. As restoration efforts further increase oyster biomass, improved water clarity and expanded benthic infaunal communities which stimulate benthic metabolism and respiration should result. Quantification of these impacts allows for an ecosystem-based approach to monitor and assess the impacts of restoration efforts and improve upon aquaculture, coastal & ocean management.

Objectives of this ongoing research is to quantify the fluxes of particulate matter, in terms of sediment and phytoplankton, and dissolved gases (O2) between a C. virginica oyster reef and the overlying waters to determine if and how flux is dependent upon variability in climate, flow regime, and overall water quality. In addition, hydrodynamics exert a strong control on larval connectivity between oyster reefs and between the semi-enclosed bays within the VCR. Ongoing research is monitoring how circulation patterns and larval behavior impacts larval connectivity along the Virginia coast. Finally, the ultimate objective is to better quantify how oyster restoration improves large scale water quality and clarity of the Virginia coastal bays.

–Matt Reidenbach

Caption: The Nature Conservancy depositing oyster shell into the coastal bays to develop suitable settlement habitat for oyster larvae.

Caption: (A) Experiment location offshore of Oyster, VA on the southern Delmarva Peninsula (B) Healthy C. virginica oyster reef containing velocity, suspended sediment, and oxygen flux instrumentation. (C) C. virginia restoration site containing deposited oyster shells that is adjacent to the healthy oyster reef. Both images taken at low tide. Note the large difference in benthic topography and vertical elevation.

For further reading:

Fuchs, H. L., and M. A. Reidenbach (2013), Biophysical constraints on optimal patch lengths for settlement of a reef-building bivalve, PLoS ONE, 8(8), e71506.

Reidenbach, M. A., P. Berg, A. Hume, J. C. Hansen, and E. R. Whitman (2013), Hydrodynamics of intertidal oyster reefs: The influence of boundary layer flow processes on sediment and oxygen exchange, Limnology & Oceanography: Fluids & Environments, 3, 225-239.

Whitman, E. R., and M. A. Reidenbach (2012), Benthic flow environments affect recruitment of Crassostrea virginica larvae to an intertidal oyster reef, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 463, 177-191.


For further information:

Dr. Matt Reidenbach (reidenbach@virginia.edu)

Choose a research highlight:

Dynamic Landscapes Bottom Dwellers Marsh Erosion Marshes and Sea Level Rise
Land Cover Distribution Predicting Change Shoreline Change Mobile Mammals Waterbirds
Seagrass Restoration Oyster Restoration Alternative State Dynamics