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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 582:1-13 (2017)  -  DOI:

Reef height drives threshold dynamics of restored oyster reefs

Allison M. Colden1,2,*, Robert J. Latour1, Romuald N. Lipcius1

1Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary, PO Box 1346, Gloucester Point, VA 23062, USA
2Present address: Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Annapolis, MD 21403, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Nonlinear threshold responses to biotic or abiotic forcing may produce multiple population trajectories dependent upon initial conditions, which can reinforce population recovery or drive local extinction, yet experimental tests of this phenomenon are lacking in marine ecosystems. In field experiments at 4 sites in 2 tributaries of lower Chesapeake Bay, we examined demographic responses (density and survival) of eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica populations to reef height and associated gradients in sediment deposition and habitat complexity. After 2 yr, oyster reefs exhibited diverging trajectories toward either degradation or persistence, dependent upon initial reef height. Reefs higher than 0.3 m supported greater oyster density, survival, and reef complexity, whereas sediment deposition was reduced. Reefs lower than 0.3 m experienced heavy sediment deposition and were eventually buried. These observations (1) provide experimental evidence for threshold dynamics in marine species, (2) suggest that the collapse of oyster populations was largely due to anthropogenic habitat degradation that eliminated positive feedbacks and which may have created an alternative reef trajectory towards local extinction, and (3) indicate an avenue by which oyster restoration is achievable.

KEY WORDS: Crassostrea virginica · Reef height · Sedimentation · Thresholds · Alternative stable states · Oyster reef · Restoration

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Cite this article as: Colden AM, Latour RJ, Lipcius RN (2017) Reef height drives threshold dynamics of restored oyster reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 582:1-13.

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