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Oyster Reef Upward Growth Rates: Faster than a Speeding Bullet?

Paper Reviewed
Rodriguez, A.B., Fodrie, F.J., Ridge, J.T., Lindquist, N.L., Theuerkauf, E.J., Coleman, S.E., Grabowski, J.H., Brodeur, M.C., Gittman, R.K., Keller, D.A. and Kenworthy, M.D. 2014. Oyster reefs can outpace sea-level rise. Nature Climate Change 4: 493-497.

According to Rodriguez et al. (2014), "in the high-salinity seaward portions of estuaries, oysters seek refuge from predation, competition and disease in intertidal areas," citing White and Wilson (1996) and Bahr and Lanier (1981)," but they say that "this sanctuary will be lost if vertical reef accretion cannot keep pace with sea-level rise (SRL)," noting that "oyster-reef abundance has already declined ~85% globally over the past 100 years, mainly from over harvesting (Kirby, 2004; Beck et al., 2011), making any additional losses due to SLR cause for concern." Further addressing this topic, Rodriguez et al. "present direct measurements of intertidal oyster-reef growth from cores and terrestrial lidar-derived digital elevation models," which measurements "were collected within a mid-Atlantic estuary over a 15-year period," ultimately allowing them to develop "a globally testable empirical model of intertidal oyster-reef accretion."

Based on their measurements the eleven U.S. researchers were able to show that "previous estimates of vertical reef growth, based on radiocarbon dates and bathymetric maps, may be greater than one order of magnitude too slow." As a result, Rodriguez et al. conclude that the intertidal reefs they studied "should be able to keep up with any future accelerated rate of sea level rise" - such as has been speculated by Rahmstorf (2010) - "and may even benefit from the additional subaqueous space allowing extended vertical accretion."

References
Bahr, L.M. and Lanier, W.P. 1981. The ecology of intertidal oyster reefs in the South Atlantic: A community profile. 105 (US Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services.

Beck, M.W., Brumbaugh, R.D., Airoldi, L., Carranza, A., Coen, L.D., Crawford, C., Defeo, O., Edgar, J.G., Hancock, B., Kay, M.C., Lenihan, H.S., Luckenbach, M.W., Toropova, C.L., Zhang, G. and Guo, X. 2011. Oyster reefs at risk and recommendations for conservation, restoration and management. Bioscience 61: 107-116.

Kirby, M.X. 2004. Fishing down the coast: Historical expansion and collapse of oyster fisheries along continental margins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 101: 13,096-13,099.

Rahmstorf, S. 2010. A new view on sea level rise. Nature Climate Change 4: 44-45.

White, M.E. and Wilson, E.A. 1996. In: Kennedy, V.S., Newell, R.I.E. and Eble, A.F. (Eds.). The Eastern Oyster: Crassostrea virginica, pp. 559-579.

Reviewed 24 September 2014