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Exploring high intertidal refugia as an approach for the restoration of an intertidal oyster

Chela J. Zabin*, Andrew L. Chang, Jeffrey Blumenthal, Brian S. Cheng

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Marine organisms frequently inhabit intertidal zones that serve as refuges from predation and competition but are not optimal physiologically. Restoration practitioners working with intertidal species may similarly have to consider whether restoration success will be greater where conditions are more benign (usually lower in the intertidal) or where negative biotic interactions are reduced (usually higher in the intertidal). In cases where a target species has greater desiccation tolerance than its enemies, restoration may be more successful higher in the intertidal zone, despite potential performance trade-offs. In many US West Coast estuaries, non-native drill species can decimate native oyster populations, posing a challenge to restoration. Because native Olympia oysters Ostrea lurida should be better able to withstand tidal emersion than the non-native Atlantic oyster drill Urosalpinx cinerea, we explored using the high intertidal as a refuge from predation as a potential restoration technique. Using surveys and a field experiment, we investigated recruitment, growth, and survival of oysters, and drill abundance and predation over 3 tidal elevations. Oysters recruited and survived equally well at +0.1 m, +0.5 m, and +0.8 m mean lower low water, but juvenile oyster growth decreased with increasing elevation. In our experiment, predation on oysters was lower at the highest elevation than at low and mid elevations, but in natural populations there was a near complete absence of O. lurida at any elevation where U. cinerea was present. This suggests that a higher tidal elevation refuge is not a viable approach for oyster restoration in our study area.