La Peyre MK, Marshall DA, Miller LS, Humphries A. 2019. Oyster reefs in the northern Gulf of Mexico estuaries support unique fish and decapod crustacean use. Frontiers in Marine Ecology, Special Issue: Gulf of Mexico Reefs, Past, Present and Future
Essential fish habitat requirements within U.S. fisheries policy requires understanding of species-habitat associations. Recent focus on the restoration of eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) reefs derives from their role as ecosystem engineers, including their unique provision of hard bottom habitat for fish and decapod crustaceans. Within the shallow estuaries of the northern Gulf of Mexico, the eastern oyster is the dominant reef building organism occurring providing unique habitat. This study synthesizes data from the literature on fish and decapod crustacean use of oyster reefs across the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGoM). Relevant data from twenty four studies were identified, representing data collected from all five U.S. nGoM states over the last 28 years. Cumulatively, these studies document over 120,000 individuals from 106 fish and 41 decapod crustacean species. Densities ranged up to over 2800 ind m-2, with up to 52 unique species identified on a single oyster reef. While these data provide a first step in quantifying oyster reef support of nekton and developing benchmarks for oyster reef restoration, more targeted goals could be identified if habitat characteristics that may be driving the differences between reef assemblages, densities, and species richness could be identified. More explicit reef descriptions (e.g., rugosity, height, area, adjacent habitat) along with standardization of sampling gears and techniques would enable more explicit target setting, and provide clear benchmarks to guide habitat-species based policy goals. Establishing benchmarks of fisheries-habitat associations provides critical support for assessing damages (injury) to resources, provides targets for restoration projects, and overall, provides data to support assessments and predict future reef landscapes.