Short-term and small-scale variation in food availability to natural oyster populations: Food, flow and flux
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Food resources and water flow speeds vary on short-temporal and small-spatial scales important to feeding in natural populations of oysters (Crassostrea virginica). To better describe food availability to the oyster population, micro-current meters were used to measure flow 1-3 cm above the bottom and frequent water sampling was used to determine the quantity and composition of the seston on Confederate Reef, Galveston Bay, Texas. The quantity and quality of food varied on time scales at least as short as 3 h and throughout the water column. Seston was high in detrital carbon, nitrogen poor, and had a high fraction of inorganic particles. The quantity of food at the bed was not predictable from samples taken near the surface. Water flow speeds were also highly variable. Whereas rapid flow speeds were measured, flow speed tended to cluster about a narrower range of slower speeds resulting in the mean speed being much higher than the median. Fluxes of food calculated from the quantity of food and water flow speeds were low and highly variable. Under most conditions, water flow speed was more important than food quantity in determining flux. Rapid flow rates could overcome low food quantity to result in relatively high fluxes, whereas slow flow resulted in small fluxes even if food was abundant. Changes in water flow rate associated with tidal changes and changes in speed are probably the primary agents controlling food availability on a daily basis. Decreased wind speed at night normally reduced flux in the early morning hours, for example. These results stress the importance of measuring food quantity and water flow speed on spatial and temporal scales important to oyster feeding. Model simulations of oyster populations at varying densities, flow rates and clump heights across the range of measured values show that flow rate is insufficient during most hours of the day and days of the year to prevent oysters from locally reducing food supply by their filtering efforts. Thus flow rate probably limits population density and adult size on Confederate Reef
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