FCE LTER Journal Articles


Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) as an indicator for restoration of Everglades Ecosystems


The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) attempts to restore hydrology in the Northern and Southern Estuaries of Florida. Reefs of the Eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica are a dominant feature of the estuaries along the Southwest Florida coast. Oysters are benthic, sessile, filter-feeding organisms that provide ecosystem services by filtering the water column and providing food, shelter and habitat for associated organisms. As such, the species is an excellent sentinel organism for examining the impacts of restoration on estuarine ecosystems. The implementation of CERP attempts to improve: the hydrology and spatial and structural characteristics of oyster reefs, the recruitment and survivorship of C. virginica, and the reef-associated communities of organisms.

This project links biological responses and environmental conditions relative to hydrological changes as a means of assessing positive or negative trends in oyster responses and population trends. Using oyster responses, we have developed a communication tool (i.e., Stoplight Report Card) based on CERP performance measures that can distinguish between responses to restoration and natural patterns. The Stoplight Report Card system is a communication tool that uses Monitoring and Assessment Program (MAP) performance measures to grade an estuary's response to changes brought about by anthropogenic input or restoration activities. The Stoplight Report Card consists of both a suitability index score for each organism metric as well as a trend score (− decreasing trend, +/− no change in trend, and + increasing trend). Based on these two measures, a component score (e.g., living density) is calculated by averaging the suitability index score and the trend score. The final index score is obtained by taking the geometric score of each component, which is then translated into a stoplight color for success (green), caution (yellow), or failure (red).

Based on the data available for oyster populations and the responses of oysters in the Caloosahatchee Estuary, the system is currently at stage “caution.” This communication tool instantly conveys the status of the indicator and the suitability, while trend curves provide information on progress towards reaching a target. Furthermore, the tool has the advantage of being able to be applied regionally, by species, and collectively, in concert with other species, system-wide.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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