Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Oyster model inventory: Identifying critical data and modeling approaches to support restoration of oyster reefs in coastal U.S. Gulf of Mexico waters

August 18, 2021

Executive Summary

Along the coast of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) plays important ecological and economic roles. Commercial landings from this region account for more than 50 percent of all U.S. landings; these oyster reefs also provide varied ecosystem services, including nursery habitat for many fish and macroinvertebrate species, shoreline protection, and water-quality maintenance. Declining trends in both total oyster production and functional reef area across this region have spurred investment in restoration of oyster resources, with specific calls for restoration projects to develop a network of reefs and identify broodstock and sanctuary reef restoration sites. Decision making related to restoration and establishment of a network of oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico requires information on both the environment and the effects of the environment on the oyster life cycle (including larval movement, survival, oyster recruitment, reproduction, growth, and mortality). Here, we examined the current state of data and model development in this region with the goal of providing an overview of oyster modeling approaches and an inventory of available data and existing oyster models. This report is meant to provide an overview to managers for understanding existing efforts and identify a path forward to most efficiently inform oyster resource management and restoration planning in moving from a single reef management approach to a reef network management approach.

Numerous models related to some aspect of the oyster life cycle have been built, calibrated, and validated for various Gulf of Mexico estuaries over the last few decades (over 30 models identified). These models, which could inform site restoration, can be classified into four approaches: (1) oyster Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) models; (2) larval transport models; (3) on-reef oyster models that may include oyster growth, mortality and reproduction, and substrate persistence; and (4) coupled larval transport on-reef metapopulation models that simulate the entire oyster life cycle. The data requirements, model complexity and assumptions, and transferability vary by approach. Specifically, some approaches may offer greater accessibility, flexibility, and transferability spatially or temporally, with minimal data input, but only provide broad information to support site selection. In contrast, other approaches may require significant site-specific data for their construction and validation but may provide more accurate and location-specific data to support site selection for broodstock reefs.

Regardless of modeling approach used, data on environmental drivers, such as salinity, water temperature, or water flow impacting oyster metabolism and movement, are required at appropriate spatial and temporal scales. While numerous data collection platforms, environmental models, and research products exist within Gulf of Mexico estuaries to provide important environmental data to use as drivers in the oyster models, significant variability in temporal and spatial coverage of the data, and variation in the availability of future condition models, exists across estuaries. This variation influences the spatial and temporal scales at which oyster models may be developed and impacts the calibration and validation of the oyster models within a given estuary, affecting its potential ability to address specific management or restoration questions.

While multiple modeling approaches exist for informing site selection of broodstock or sanctuary oyster reefs, the development, calibration, and validation of a single modeling platform presents the most efficient, transferable, and useful tool for managers across the Gulf of Mexico. The development of a single modeling platform would involve using standardized input variables, governing equations, and assumptions for the modeled oyster processes and outputs, and for standardized calibration and validation procedures that could be applied within each estuary. The differences among estuary applications would require substituting only estuary-specific environmental data, and calibrating and validating the modeling approach with local oyster data.

Two modeling approaches likely to be useful include (1) development of a general geospatial HSI modeling framework that could be applied consistently across estuaries and (2) a mechanistic coupled larval transport on-reef metapopulation model requiring only estuarine specific calibration and hydrodynamic models. Both approaches benefit from existing work across multiple Gulf of Mexico estuaries and could provide valuable support for oyster restoration, but may differ in their ability to address specific questions related to oyster restoration. HSI models specifically guide restoration practitioners in determining suitable habitat based on available data. The HSI approach, while currently more widely used and accessible, requires more development of larval suitability and larval input and output components in order to inform reef connectivity. A metapopulation approach considering the full oyster life cycle that simulates both on-reef oyster growth, mortality, reproduction, substrate persistence, and larval transport (ideally with larval growth and mortality) would provide the greatest detail and level of understanding but requires significant up-front investment. The larval oyster model and on-reef oyster model are usually developed independently for systems, although the two approaches can be coupled to represent the entire oyster life cycle in order to characterize and assess a reef metapopulation. This approach may be less accessible and much more data-intensive, however, and it requires some expertise to run and apply to inform oyster resource management.

Ultimately, the development of single modeling platforms for each of these approaches would provide flexible tools applicable across all Gulf of Mexico oyster supporting estuaries. By using a single platform for model development, testing, calibrating and validating, and evaluation of modeled future scenarios, oyster restoration scientists and managers would not only be able to examine different scenario outcomes within a single estuary, but could also have comparable modeled results to evaluate potential outcomes, across estuaries and regions, that are not confounded by varying modeled data inputs, governing equations, assumptions, or user judgement.

Publication Year 2021
Title Oyster model inventory: Identifying critical data and modeling approaches to support restoration of oyster reefs in coastal U.S. Gulf of Mexico waters
DOI 10.3133/ofr20211063
Authors Megan K. La Peyre, Danielle A. Marshall, Shaye E. Sable
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2021-1063
Index ID ofr20211063
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Atlanta