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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 406:147-159 (2010)  -  DOI:

Relative value of oyster reef as habitat for estuarine nekton in Galveston Bay, Texas

Gregory W. Stunz1,*, Thomas J. Minello2, Lawrence P. Rozas3

1Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies and Department of Life Sciences, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, 6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi, Texas 78412, USA
2SEFSC, Galveston Laboratory, NOAA Fisheries Service, 4700 Avenue U, Galveston, Texas 77551, USA
3SEFC/Estuarine Habitats and Coastal Fisheries Center, NOAA Fisheries Service, 646 Cajundome Blvd., Lafayette, Louisiana 70506, USA

ABSTRACT: Biogenic reefs formed by dense aggregations of the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica are a dominant feature in most estuarine systems along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Oyster reefs are complex in their structural nature and have long been recognized for their potential habitat value. However, relatively few studies have characterized nekton abundance in this complex habitat type, and live high-relief oyster beds have been particularly difficult to sample with conventional gear. We used a quantitative sampling device to compare nekton use among high-relief live oyster reef, vegetated marsh edge Spartina alterniflora, and nonvegetated bottom habitat types. During 1 yr of seasonal sampling we collected 3791 fishes and 12386 crustaceans representing 38 and 21 different species, respectively. Density and biomass of most fishes and crustaceans were significantly higher in oyster reef than over nonvegetated bottom. For benthic crustaceans, oyster reef supported a higher density and biomass than vegetated marsh edge. Nektonic crustaceans were generally more abundant in marsh edge than on oyster reef. Species composition and richness varied among habitat types and season; however, richness was highest in oyster reef, followed by marsh edge, and lowest on nonvegetated bottom, except during seasonal low densities during winter. Species composition and size differences were observed among habitat types. Our results show that oyster reef supports a high density, biomass, and richness of estuarine nekton in relation to typically examined estuarine habitat types and has the potential to be an essential habitat. Identifying and quantifying the role of oyster reefs will be critical to implementing effective management for essential fish habitat.

KEY WORDS: Oyster reef · Essential fish habitat · Nekton habitat use · Estuarine habitat

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Cite this article as: Stunz GW, Minello TJ, Rozas LP (2010) Relative value of oyster reef as habitat for estuarine nekton in Galveston Bay, Texas. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 406:147-159.

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