Understanding the Success and Failure of Oyster Populations: Periodicities of Perkinsus marinus, and Oyster Recruitment, Mortality, and Size

Thomas M. Soniat
John M. Klinck, Old Dominion University
Eric N. Powell
Eileen E. Hofmann, Old Dominion University

Abstract

Ten-year time series (1992 to 2002) of salinity, Dermo disease, and size-class structure and mortality measured for an eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) population at a reef in Bay Tambour, Terrebonne Parish, LA, were analyzed using wavelet techniques to determine dominant frequencies and correlations. Along the Gulf Coast of the United States, Dermo disease (caused by Perkinsus marinus) responds to the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate signal through its response to salinity. During the La Nina portion of ENSO, decreased rainfall leads to an increase in salinity, which triggers a rise in Dermo disease prevalence and intensity, producing increased oyster mortality. Although disease responds to the 4-y periodicity of ENSO and salinity, the oyster population dynamics do not appear to be controlled by disease at this site. A significant 4-y coherency exists between recruitment and salinity, with recruitment being higher during periods of high salinity. 'Recruit numbers and submarket numbers also exhibit a strong 4-y periodicity. However, a relationship between the recruit time series and the subsequent change in market-size abundance did not exist. The complexity of postsettlement processes and the extended time over which these processes interact decrease the predictability of the recruit-to-market transition. Even the strong pulse of recruits associated with La Nina and its locally elevated salinities did not result in an exceptional abundance of market oysters. Understanding the environmental and biotic factors that favor the production of large oysters is critical because large oysters not only supply the fishery, but, upon their death, contribute the bulk of the shell required for reef sustainability.