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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13781

Saved by the shell: oyster reefs can shield juvenile blue crabs Callinectes sapidus

Katherine S. Longmire*, Rochelle D. Seitz, Alison Smith, Romuald N. Lipcius

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Juvenile blue crabs Callinectes sapidus use seagrass and other structured habitats as refuges from predation. Oyster reef habitats provide structural complexity that may offer refuge, but the value of these habitats for juvenile blue crabs has not been examined. We quantified survival of juvenile C. sapidus in structured oyster reef habitat versus unstructured soft-bottom habitat. In a field tethering experiment in the York River, lower Chesapeake Bay, juvenile C. sapidus (10–50 mm carapace width [CW]) were tethered in sand (n = 40) or oyster reef (n = 39) habitats at subtidal sites 1–2 m deep. An underwater camera system was used to record predation activity during 24-h trials. Juvenile crab survival was significantly higher on the oyster reef habitat (53.8%) than on bare sand (15.0%), and tended to increase with crab CW in both habitats. The main successful predators on juvenile blue crabs were northern pufferfish Sphoeroides maculatus in the oyster reef habitat and adult blue crabs in the sand habitat. The high survival rate of juvenile C. sapidus in oyster reef habitats suggests that oyster reefs include physical habitat complexity that may offer refuge from predators. Restored and natural oyster reefs could provide an alternative nursery habitat for juvenile blue crabs, expanding the ecosystem services provided by restored oyster reefs.