The ecosystem engineer Crassostrea gigas affects tidal flat morphology beyond the boundary of their reef structures
Walles, B. ; Salvador de Paiva, J. ; Prooijen, B. van; Ysebaert, T. ; Smaal, A.C. - \ 2015
Estuaries and coasts 38 (2015)3. - ISSN 1559-2723 - p. 941 - 950.
wadden sea - sediment dynamics - pacific oysters - native mussels - habitat - estuary - stabilization - enhancement - communities - adaptation
Ecosystem engineers that inhabit coastal and estuarine environments, such as reef building oysters, do not only stabilise the sediment within their reefs, but their influence might also extend far outside their reefs, affecting tidal flat morphology and protecting the surrounding soft-sediment environment against erosion. However, quantitative information is largely missing, and the spatially extended ecosystem engineering effects on the surrounding soft-sediment largely unstudied. To quantify this, we measured elevations around eleven natural Crassostrea gigas reefs occurring on tidal flats in the Oosterschelde estuary (the Netherlands). These tidal flats experience strong erosion as a consequence of human interventions in the system. Various reef sizes were chosen to test the proportional effects of reefs on tidal flat morphology. Measurements were used to create 3-dimensional surface maps to obtain properties of the reefs and the surrounding soft-sediment environment. The area of the oyster reefs ranged from 2 to 1,908 m2. Reef length varied between 1 and 61 m, reef width between 1 and 45 m, and reef height between 0.20 and 1.08 m. Reefs varied in shape, going from round shape structures to more elongated ones. We observed elevated areas (>5 cm elevation from the background intertidal slope) on the lee side of all reefs, caused by the interaction between the reef’s structure and locally prevailing wave conditions. The elevated area (i.e. the spatially extended ecosystem engineering effect) affected by the reef was of the same order of magnitude as the reef area. The elevated area was related to reef properties such as reef length, width, and height. Reef length, however, appeared to be the best predictor. These findings contribute to management solutions for coastal adaptation and protection. Our study clearly showed that oyster reefs not only protect the tidal flat under their footprint, but as well an area beyond the boundary of the reef