Oyster reef restoration in the northern gulf of Mexico: Effect of artificial substrate and age on nekton and benthic macroinvertebrate assemblage use

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In the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM), reefs built by eastern oysters, Crassostrea virginica, provide critical habitat within shallow estuaries, and recent efforts have focused on restoring reefs to benefit nekton and benthic macroinvertebrates. We compared nekton and benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages at historic, newly created (<5years) and old (>6years) shell and rock substrate reefs. Using crab traps, gill-nets, otter trawls, cast nets, and benthic macroinvertebrate collectors, 20 shallow reefs (<5m) in the northern GOM were sampled throughout the summer of 2011. We compared nekton and benthic assemblage abundance, diversity and composition across reef types. Except for benthic macroinvertebrate abundance, which was significantly higher on old rock reefs as compared to historic reefs, all reefs were similar to historic reefs, suggesting created reefs provide similar support of nekton and benthic assemblages as historic reefs. To determine refuge value of oyster structure for benthic macroinvertebrates compared to bare bottom, we tested preferences of juvenile crabs across depth and refuge complexity in the presence and absence of adult blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus). Juveniles were more likely to use deep water with predators present only when provided oyster structure. Provision of structural material to support and sustain development of benthic and mobile reef communities may be the most important factor in determining reef value to these assemblages, with biophysical characteristics related to reef location influencing assemblage patterns in areas with structure; if so, appropriately locating created reefs is critical. © 2013 Society for Ecological Restoration.

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Restoration Ecology

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