AB 9:77-84 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00228

Crassostrea virginica shells record local variation in wastewater inputs to a coastal estuary

Carolyn J. Kovacs1, Joshua H. Daskin2,3, Heather Patterson1, Ruth H. Carmichael1,*

1Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA
2MB 0193 Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454, USA
3Present address: School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, 4811 Queensland, Australia
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: We measured δ15N values in the acid-insoluble organic portion of shells from Crassostrea virginica transplanted at increasing distance from a major wastewater treatment plant in Mobile Bay, Alabama. To determine whether δ15N in shell material recorded local spatial variation in wastewater influence, we compared δ15N in newly deposited oyster shell to δ15N values in wastewater effluent and in suspended particulate matter in receiving waters. We compared δ15N values in shell to δ15N in adductor muscle and whole tissues to determine the isotopic relationships between shell and soft tissues for this previously untested species. δ15N values in oyster shell reflected differences in wastewater influence relative to distance from the wastewater treatment plant within 38 d of transplanting. δ15N values in shell were enriched by 2.4‰ compared to available foods, consistent with a trophic shift from food source to consumer. δ15N values in shell also were significantly correlated with δ15N values in soft tissues, but were enriched by 1.9‰ compared to whole tissues and 0.8‰ compared to adductor muscle. Overall, δ15N values in oyster shell were a better proxy for adductor muscle than whole tissues. If applied with care, oyster shells provide an ecologically and commercially meaningful wastewater detection tool that may be effective over relatively short spatial and temporal scales. δ15N values in shell material may be particularly useful to enable anthropogenic source tracing and refine food web reconstructions in areas with remnant shells where oysters or other bivalves have been severely depleted or already lost.


KEY WORDS: Nitrogen · Stable isotopes · Bivalve · Anthropogenic · Oyster


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Cite this article as: Kovacs CJ, Daskin JH, Patterson H, Carmichael RH (2010) Crassostrea virginica shells record local variation in wastewater inputs to a coastal estuary. Aquat Biol 9:77-84. https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00228

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