MEPS 581:57-70 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12261

The effects of intertidal oyster reef habitat characteristics on faunal utilization

Marc H. Hanke1,2,*, Martin H. Posey1, Troy D. Alphin1

1Department of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 S. College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403, USA
2Present address: Honors College, University of Houston, 212 MD Anderson Library, 4333 University Dr., Houston, TX 77204-2001, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The presence, abundance, and distribution of organisms within a landscape are highly dependent on the composition, quality, and configuration of habitat patches. Intertidal oyster Crassostrea virginica reefs provide a structured habitat for many organisms; however, declining oyster populations have induced reef fragmentation and loss. Over 2 years (2011-2012), we evaluated naturally occurring fringing and patch intertidal oyster reefs in southeastern North Carolina, USA, to determine how varied reef type, size, and distance from edge to interior influenced the associated benthic macrofauna and mobile nekton. In addition, the effects of size and edge vs. interior were examined on constructed intertidal reefs at 2 different locations. On the natural reefs, species richness of benthic macrofauna and mobile nekton were significantly increased on fringing reefs. Benthic macrofauna richness significantly decreased on large natural reefs, whereas mobile nekton richness significantly increased off of large reefs. Further, associated benthic macrofauna richness significantly decreased along the reef edge, whereas mobile nekton diversity increased along the reef/open bottom interface. Species richness and densities for benthic macrofauna increased with created reef size, while there was greater species richness and diversity and dissimilar communities for mobile nekton along constructed reef edges. Habitat specificity may influence utilization for mobile nekton, as resident organisms with limited vagility had a stronger response to habitat characteristics. Thus, utilization of intertidal oyster reefs can be highly structured by habitat characteristics on many scales, and should be considered when examining species interactions, ecosystem management, and future restoration efforts.


KEY WORDS: Habitat characteristics · Habitat heterogeneity · Patch size · Edge effects · Mobile nekton · Benthic macrofauna · Habitat fragmentation · Habitat restoration · Oyster reefs · Crassostrea virginica


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Cite this article as: Hanke MH, Posey MH, Alphin TD (2017) The effects of intertidal oyster reef habitat characteristics on faunal utilization. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 581:57-70. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12261

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