PhD Student, Macquarie University
My research investigates the mechanisms by which oyster reef restoration will improve biodiversity.
The native habitat-forming Sydney rock oyster, Saccostrea glomerata, once formed extensive reefs along the east coast of Australia but like many other oyster populations, is now considered functionally extinct. In temperate regions, oyster reefs support high biodiversity, similar to coral reefs in tropical regions. The habitat created by oysters provides protection from predation for juvenile fish and invertebrates. Oysters also naturally improve water quality through filtration and the hard substrate they form can protect shorelines. My PhD research investigates methods by which we can effectively restore native oyster habitat to maximise biodiversity by understanding how stressors and environmental conditions impact current oyster populations. Although Sydney rock oysters have experienced drastic population losses, my research has shown that the existing habitat is able to promote the recruitment and survival of juvenile oysters necessary to restore populations, and buffer resident invertebrates from anthropogenic stressors such as boat wake. Further, my work has shown that there is immense potential for successful restoration: although reefs have disappeared, where reef substrate is added juvenile oysters settle and grow to form complex habitat. Thus, restoration of these vital habitat-forming species should be successful and help sustain biodiverse marine habitats.
Successful restoration of vital marine habitat will be increasingly important as the global population grows. We will continue to modify coastal habitats and simultaneously rely on them for resources such as food. Thus, developing international partnerships to manage current and future coastal threats is imperative.
With the Sparrho Early Career Researcher prize, I will attend the 19th International Conference on Shellfish Restoration (ICSR) in Adelaide, SA in February 2018. At this conference, I will learn about international restoration efforts and disseminate the results of my research. I will also have the opportunity to establish international collaborations with other leading scientists in the field. I have demonstrated the ability to establish and maintain such collaborations at local restoration meetings where I have led working groups and founded student networks. Thus, as an early career researcher at the ICSR conference, I will develop international collaborations that support Sparrho’s aim to encourage long-lasting global partnerships that produce valuable research.
Abstract: Understanding how the density and spatial arrangement of invaders is critical to developing management strategies of pest species. The Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas, has been translocated around the world for aquaculture and in many instances has established wild populations. Relative to other species of bivalve, it displays rapid suspension feeding, which may cause mortality of pelagic invertebrate larvae. We compared the effect on settlement of Sydney rock oyster, Saccostrea glomerata, larvae of manipulating the spatial arrangement and density of native S. glomerata, and non-native C. gigas. We hypothesized that while manipulations of dead oysters would reveal the same positive relationship between attachment surface area and S. glomerata settlement between the two species, manipulations of live oysters would reveal differing density-dependent effects between the native and non-native oyster. In the field, whether oysters were live or dead, more larvae settled on C. gigas than S. glomerata when substrate was arranged in monospecific clumps. When, however, the two species were interspersed, there were no differences in larval settlement between them. By contrast, in aquaria simulating a higher effective oyster density, more larvae settled on live S. glomerata than C. gigas. When C. gigas was prevented from suspension feeding, settlement of larvae on C. gigas was enhanced. By contrast, settlement was similar between the two species when dead. While the presently low densities of the invasive oyster C. gigas may enhance S. glomerata larval settlement in east Australian estuaries, future increases in densities could produce negative impacts on native oyster settlement. Synthesis and applications: Our study has shown that both the spatial arrangement and density of invaders can influence their impact. Hence, management strategies aimed at preventing invasive populations reaching damaging sizes should not only consider the threshold density at which impacts exceed some acceptable limit, but also how patch formation modifies this.
Pub.: 24 Jan '14, Pinned: 30 Nov '17
Abstract: Native oyster species were once vital ecosystem engineers, but their populations have collapsed worldwide because of overfishing and habitat destruction. In 2004, we initiated a vast (35-hectare) field experiment by constructing native oyster reefs of three types (high-relief, low-relief, and unrestored) in nine protected sanctuaries throughout the Great Wicomico River in Virginia, United States. Upon sampling in 2007 and 2009, we found a thriving metapopulation comprising 185 million oysters of various age classes. Oyster density was fourfold greater on high-relief than on low-relief reefs, explaining the failure of past attempts. Juvenile recruitment and reef accretion correlated with oyster density, facilitating reef development and population persistence. This reestablished metapopulation is the largest of any native oyster worldwide and validates ecological restoration of native oyster species.
Pub.: 01 Aug '09, Pinned: 30 Nov '17
Abstract: Reef-building species form discrete patches atop soft sediments, and reef restoration often involves depositing solid material as a substrate for larval settlement and growth. There have been few theoretical efforts to optimize the physical characteristics of a restored reef patch to achieve high recruitment rates. The delivery of competent larvae to a reef patch is influenced by larval behavior and by physical habitat characteristics such as substrate roughness, patch length, current speed, and water depth. We used a spatial model, the "hitting-distance" model, to identify habitat characteristics that will jointly maximize both the settlement probability and the density of recruits on an oyster reef (Crassostrea virginica). Modeled larval behaviors were based on laboratory observations and included turbulence-induced diving, turbulence-induced passive sinking, and neutral buoyancy. Profiles of currents and turbulence were based on velocity profiles measured in coastal Virginia over four different substrates: natural oyster reefs, mud, and deposited oyster and whelk shell. Settlement probabilities were higher on larger patches, whereas average settler densities were higher on smaller patches. Larvae settled most successfully and had the smallest optimal patch length when diving over rough substrates in shallow water. Water depth was the greatest source of variability, followed by larval behavior, substrate roughness, and tidal current speed. This result suggests that the best way to maximize settlement on restored reefs is to construct patches of optimal length for the water depth, whereas substrate type is less important than expected. Although physical patch characteristics are easy to measure, uncertainty about larval behavior remains an obstacle for predicting settlement patterns. The mechanistic approach presented here could be combined with a spatially explicit metapopulation model to optimize the arrangement of reef patches in an estuary or region for greater sustainability of restored habitats.
Pub.: 27 Aug '13, Pinned: 30 Nov '17
Abstract: Functional trait variation within and across populations can strongly influence population, community, and ecosystem processes, but the relative contributions of genetic vs. environmental factors to this variation are often not clear, potentially complicating conservation and restoration efforts. For example, local adaptation, a particular type of genetic by environmental (G*E) interaction in which the fitness of a population in its own habitat is greater than in other habitats, is often invoked in management practices, even in the absence of supporting evidence. Despite increasing attention to the potential for G*E interactions, few studies have tested multiple populations and environments simultaneously, limiting our understanding of the spatial consistency in patterns of adaptive genetic variation. In addition, few studies explicitly differentiate adaptation in response to predation from other biological and environmental factors. We conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment of first-generation eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) juveniles from six populations across three field sites spanning 1000 km in the southeastern Atlantic Bight in both the presence and absence of predation to test for G*E variation in this economically valuable and ecologically important species. We documented significant G*E variation in survival and growth, yet there was no evidence for local adaptation. Condition varied across oyster cohorts: Offspring of northern populations had better condition than offspring from the center of our region. Oyster populations in the southeastern Atlantic Bight differ in juvenile survival, growth, and condition, yet offspring from local broodstock do not have higher survival or growth than those from farther away. In the absence of population-specific performance information, oyster restoration and aquaculture may benefit from incorporating multiple populations into their practices.
Pub.: 22 Dec '16, Pinned: 30 Nov '17
Abstract: In conservation strategies of marine ecosystems, priority is given to habitat-structuring foundation species (e.g. seagrasses, mangroves and reef-building corals, shellfish) with the implicit goal to protect or restore associated communities and their interactions. However, the number and accuracy of community level metrics to measure the success of these strategies are limited. Using intertidal shellfish reefs as a model, we tested to what extent foundation species alter community and food web structure, and explored whether basic metrics of food web structure are useful indicators of ecosystem complexity compared to other often-used indices. We found that shellfish reefs strongly modified community and food web structure by modifying habitat conditions (e.g. hydrodynamics, sediment grain size). Stable isotope-based food web reconstruction captured important differences between communities from bare mudflat and shellfish reefs that did not emerge from classic abundance or diversity measures. On shellfish reefs, link density and the number of top predators were consistently higher, while both connectance and the richness of intermediate species was lower. Species richness (+ 42%), species density (+ 79%) and total biomass of benthos, fish and birds (+ 41%) was also higher on shellfish reefs, but this did not affect the Shannon diversity or Evenness. Hence, our results showed that basic food web metrics such as link density and number of top consumers and intermediate species combined with traditional measures of species richness can provide a robust tool to measure conservation and restoration success. We therefore suggest that these metrics are included as Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBV), and implemented as ecosystem health indicators in legislative frameworks such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
Pub.: 07 Oct '16, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: Oyster reefs provide valuable ecosystem services that contribute to coastal resilience. Unfortunately, many reefs have been degraded or removed completely, and there are increased efforts to restore oysters in many coastal areas. In particular, much attention has recently been given to the restoration of shellfish reefs along eroding shorelines to reduce erosion. Such fringing reef approaches, however, often lack empirical data to identify locations where reefs are most effective in reducing marsh erosion, or fully take into account habitat suitability. Using monitoring data from 5 separate fringing reef projects across coastal Louisiana, we quantify shoreline exposure (fetch + wind direction + wind speed) and reef impacts on shoreline retreat. Our results indicate that fringing oyster reefs have a higher impact on shoreline retreat at higher exposure shorelines. At higher exposures, fringing reefs reduced marsh edge erosion an average of 1.0 m y(-1). Using these data, we identify ranges of shoreline exposure values where oyster reefs are most effective at reducing marsh edge erosion and apply this knowledge to a case study within one Louisiana estuary. In Breton Sound estuary, we calculate shoreline exposure at 500 random points and then overlay a habitat suitability index for oysters. This method and the resulting visualization show areas most likely to support sustainable oyster populations as well as significantly reduce shoreline erosion. Our results demonstrate how site selection criteria, which include shoreline exposure and habitat suitability, are critical to ensuring greater positive impacts and longevity of oyster reef restoration projects.
Pub.: 27 Oct '15, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: Demand for restoration of resilient, self-sustaining, and biodiverse natural ecosystems as a conservation measure is increasing globally; however, restoration efforts frequently fail to meet standards appropriate for this objective. Achieving these standards requires management underpinned by input from diverse scientific disciplines including ecology, biotechnology, engineering, soil science, ecophysiology, and genetics. Despite increasing restoration research activity, a gap between the immediate needs of restoration practitioners and the outputs of restoration science often limits the effectiveness of restoration programs. Regrettably, studies often fail to identify the practical issues most critical for restoration success. We propose that part of this oversight may result from the absence of a considered statement of the necessary practical restoration science questions. Here we develop a comprehensive framework of the research required to bridge this gap and guide effective restoration. We structure questions in five themes: (1) setting targets and planning for success, (2) sourcing biological material, (3) optimizing establishment, (4) facilitating growth and survival, and (5) restoring resilience, sustainability, and landscape integration. This framework will assist restoration practitioners and scientists to identify knowledge gaps and develop strategic research focused on applied outcomes. The breadth of questions highlights the importance of cross-discipline collaboration among restoration scientists, and while the program is broad, successful restoration projects have typically invested in many or most of these themes. Achieving restoration ecology's goal of averting biodiversity losses is a vast challenge: investment in appropriate science is urgently needed for ecological restoration to fulfill its potential and meet demand as a conservation tool.
Pub.: 15 Dec '16, Pinned: 30 Oct '17
Abstract: Kelp forests dominated by species of Laminariales are globally recognized as key habitats on subtidal temperate rocky reefs. Forests characterized by fucalean seaweed, in contrast, receive relatively less attention despite being abundant, ubiquitous, and ecologically important. Here, we review information on subtidal fucalean taxa of Australia's Great Southern Reef, with a focus on the three most abundant and widely distributed genera (Phyllospora, Scytothalia, and Sargassum) to reveal the functionally unique role of fucoids in temperate reef ecology. Fucalean species span the entire temperate coastline of Australia (~71,000 km2) and play an important role in supporting subtidal temperate biodiversity and economic values on rocky reefs as well as in adjacent habitats. Climatic and anthropogenic stressors have precipitated significant range retractions and declines in many fucoids, with critical implications for associated assemblages. Such losses are persistent and unlikely to be reversed naturally due to the life history of these species and colonization of competitors and grazers following loss. Active restoration is proving successful in bringing back some fucoid species (Phyllospora comosa) lost from urban shores and will complement other passive and active forms of conservation. Fucalean forests play a unique role on subtidal temperate reefs globally, especially in Australia, but are comparatively understudied. Addressing this knowledge gap will be critical for understanding, predicting, and mitigating extant and future loss of these underwater forests and the valuable ecosystem services they support.
Pub.: 10 Sep '17, Pinned: 30 Oct '17