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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 19;8(8):e71506. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071506. eCollection 2013.

Biophysical constraints on optimal patch lengths for settlement of a reef-building bivalve.

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Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States of America.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2013;8(11). doi:10.1371/annotation/30af0dbd-0e47-4ea6-a2b8-4255ff782d1f.


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.

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