Microhabitat availability resulting from spatial complexity on oyster reef allows niche overlap and enhances benthic-pelagic coupling within a localized area; however, in Georgia, little is known regarding the temporal succession patterns of resident species on constructed reef. The purpose of this research is to evaluate the development and relative habitat value of man-made oyster habitat by monitoring oyster growth and the colonization by structurally important and resident oyster reef community species. Sixteen sampling units of commercial spat sticks in densities of 81/m2 were deployed prior to the oyster reproductive season during April 2004. Two sampling units were extracted every 3 mo starting July 2004 and assessed for biomass; oyster shell height and growth rate; oyster, barnacle, and mussel density per 0.01 m2; and species and phyla richness. Maximum oyster growth rate (0.39 mm/day) occurred during January 2005, with mean oyster shell height peaking at 83.56 ± 1.31 mm by May 2005. Oysters, barnacles, and scorched mussels appeared concurrently on sampling units during July 2004, and ribbed mussels appeared in October 2004. There were significant positive relationships between oyster and mussel (ribbed and scorched) densities (P < 0.0001), but none were detected between oyster and barnacle densities. Reef species rapidly colonized sampling units (24 of 31 species by October 2004), and a significant correlation between biomass and species (R2 = 0.91) and phyla (R2 = 0.96) richness was observed. Settlement and optimal growth of structurally important species on vertically elevated man-made oyster reef enhanced habitat availability and supported rapid colonization of reef-associated species.
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Vol. 29 • No. 4