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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 473:7-27 (2013)  -  DOI:

Effect of aquacultured oyster biodeposition on sediment N2 production in Chesapeake Bay

Colleen B. Higgins1, Craig Tobias2, Michael F. Piehler3, Ashley R. Smyth3, Richard F. Dame4, Kurt Stephenson5, Bonnie L. Brown6,*

1Integrative Life Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia 23284, USA
2University of Connecticut, Avery Point, Groton, Connecticut 06340, USA
3Institute of Marine Sciences, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
4Distinguished Palmetto Professor Emeritus, Coastal Carolina University, Charleston, South Carolina 29403, USA
5Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA
6Department of Biology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia 23284, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Suspension feeding bivalves have the potential to mitigate estuarine and coastal marine eutrophication by permanently removing nitrogen (N) from the system. We conducted an integrated field and laboratory examination of the effect of eastern oyster biodeposition on sediment denitrification (DNF) and anammox (AMX) rates to quantify the N removal potential of oyster aquaculture using 2 commercial-scale sites in Chesapeake Bay, USA. Sediment N2 production rates were measured using 2 techniques, 15N isotope tracer (n = 51) and N2:Ar (n = 30). Oyster biodeposit N-load rates explained 21% of variation in sediment N2 production (DNF and AMX). Oyster sediment N2 production rates ranged from 0.00 to 1.56 mmol N m−2 d−1 and were almost always lower than reference sediments. From laboratory-based biodeposit addition and field-based forced biodeposit accumulation experiments, we found ~2.50 mmol N m−2 d−1 to be the maximum sediment N2 production capacity of these sediments, regardless of increasing organic N or labile organic carbon delivery rates. We found no evidence to support the contention that biodeposition associated with oyster aquaculture significantly impacts annual N removal via sediment N2 production, i.e. stimulation or inhibition, above reference rates, but there was evidence that sediment NH4+ efflux rates were increased. We estimate the N removal rate via sediment N2 production at similar oyster cultivation sites (1750 m2) with 5 × 105 oysters ranges from 0.49 to 12.60 kg N yr−1, compared to 2.27 to 16.72 kg N yr−1 at reference sites. Thus, aquacultured oyster biodeposition did not have a ubiquitously enhancing effect on N removal rates via N2 production and is therefore unlikely to be effective as a policy initiative for eutrophication mitigation.

KEY WORDS: Eastern oyster · Crassostrea virginica (Gmelin) · N2 production · Denitrification · Anammox · Sediment nitrogen removal · Oyster biodeposition · Chesapeake Bay

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Cite this article as: Higgins CB, Tobias C, Piehler MF, Smyth AR, Dame RF, Stephenson K, Brown BL (2013) Effect of aquacultured oyster biodeposition on sediment N2 production in Chesapeake Bay. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 473:7-27.

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