Effects of flood-associated stressors on growth and survival of early life stage oysters (Crassostrea virginica)

Oyster reefs provide essential ecosystem services but are severely degraded worldwide. Extreme flooding events, which can be intensified by water management decisions, reduce water quality in estuaries and further threaten oyster populations. Restoration and conservation of oysters is dependent on the success of early oyster life stages. This study examined the effect of water quality stressors associated with flooding events on the growth and survival of larval and juvenile oysters (Crassostrea virginica). In 96-h assays, we exposed D-stage larvae to a range of dissolved oxygen, microcystin-LR, pH, and salinity concentrations. These conditions were selected based on water quality data from the Mississippi Sound during a 2019 freshwater flooding event caused by the Bonnet Carré Spillway opening. There was no negative effect of microcystin-LR or pH on early veligers at the concentrations tested, but low salinity significantly reduced shell growth, and hypoxia (< 2 mg L−1 O2) decreased both larval growth and survival. Post-metamorphosis juvenile oysters were exposed to the same water quality stressors for 24 days in the lab. Low DO, pH, and salinity treatments reduced juvenile change in wet weight and shell growth rates, but had no effects on survival. These laboratory-exposed juveniles were subsequently deployed into the field to assess the ability of juveniles to recover from short-term exposure to simulated flooding-associated stressors. After deployment to natural conditions in the Mississippi Sound, juvenile oysters were able to compensate for reduced growth during the lab exposure, even though survival was reduced for juveniles previously exposed to low pH during the first two weeks in the field. In general, early oyster life stages were relatively tolerant of the duration and stressor concentrations tested, but negative sublethal impacts of flood-associated stressors must be considered in the face of increasing frequency and duration of flooding events due to climate change.

Pruett J. L., Pandelide A. F., Willett K. L., Gochfeld D. J., 2021. Effects of flood-associated stressors on growth and survival of early life stage oysters (Crassostrea virginica). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 544: 151615. doi: 10.1016/j.jembe.2021.151615. Article (subscription required).

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