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Classic paradigms in a novel environment: inserting food web and productivity lessons from rocky shores and saltmarshes into biogenic reef restoration

Fodrie, F. Joel, Rodriguez, Antonio B., Baillie, Christopher J., Brodeur, Michelle C., Coleman, Sara E., Gittman, Rachel K., Keller, Danielle A., Kenworthy, Matthew D., Poray, Abigail K., Ridge, Justin T., Theuerkauf, Ethan J., Lindquist, Niels. L., Arnott, Shelley
Journal of applied ecology 2014 v.51 no.5 pp. 1314-1325
Gastropoda, Spartina, adults, biofouling, biomass, crabs, ecological restoration, food webs, habitat conservation, habitats, models, oysters, predation, reefs, salt marshes, sea level, seagrasses, shellfish, survival rate
Gradients in competition and predation that regulate communities should guide biogenic habitat restoration, while restoration ecology provides opportunities to address fundamental questions regarding food web dynamics via large‐scale field manipulations. We restored oyster reefs across an aerial exposure gradient (shallow‐subtidal‐to‐mid‐intertidal) to explore how vertical gradients in natural settlement, growth and interspecific interactions affected the trajectory of man‐made shellfish reefs. We recorded nearly an order‐of‐magnitude higher oyster settlement on the deepest (subtidal) reefs, but within a year abundance patterns reversed, and oyster densities were ultimately highest on the shallowest (intertidal) reefs by over an order‐of‐magnitude. This reversal was due to (i) significantly elevated survivorship on intertidal reefs and (ii) larger surviving oysters on intertidal reefs. These patterns are likely to have developed from greater levels of biofouling and predator abundance (e.g. stone crabs, gastropods) on deeper reefs where aerial exposure was <5% of the monthly tidal cycle. Synthesis and applications. The success of restoration initiatives involving habitat‐forming species can be enhanced by accounting for the biotic interactions that regulate population fitness. In littoral systems, vertical gradients in predation, competition and disturbance can be exploited to guide restoration of vegetated (e.g. mangrove, seagrass) or biogenic reef habitats. In particular, our results demonstrate that paradigms of vertical zonation learned from the rocky intertidal and saltmarshes also describe the fate of restored shellfish reefs. As with rocky shores, the lower vertical limit of adult oyster distribution in our study system was most likely driven by predatory and competitive (i.e. smothering) interactions, with a threshold depth at c. 5% daily aerial exposure. Below this depth, experimentally restored reefs failed completely. As with Spartina saltmarsh, accumulation of oyster biomass was greatest at an intermediate vertical position relative to mean sea level (i.e. mid‐to‐low intertidal). Our developing model proscribes a vertical ‘hot spot’ for restoration efforts to maximize biogenic reef fitness and production.