Ostrea edulis beds on shallow sublittoral muddy mixed sediment

Summary

UK and Ireland classification

Description

Dense beds of the oyster Ostrea edulis can occur on shallow sublittoral muddy fine sand or sandy mud mixed sediments. There may be considerable quantities of dead oyster shell making up a substantial portion of the substratum. The clumps of dead shells and oysters can support large numbers of Ascidiella aspersa and Ascidiella scabra. Sponges such as Halichondria bowerbanki may also be present. Several conspicuously large polychaetes, such as Chaetopterus variopedatus and terebellids, as well as additional suspension-feeding polychaetes such as Myxicola infundibulum and Sabella pavonina may be important in distinguishing this biotope, whilst the opisthobranch Philine quadripartita may also be frequent in some areas. A turf of seaweeds such as Plocamium cartilagineumNitophyllum punctatum and Spyridia filamentosa may also be present. This biotope description may need expansion to account for oyster beds in England. (Information from Connor et al., 2004; JNCC, 2015, 2022).

Depth range

0-5 m, 5-10 m, 10-20 m

Additional information

The native, flat oyster (Ostrea edulis) has been extensively studied due to its commercial importance. Therefore, this review is based on past reviews, to which the reader should refer to further detail (e.g. Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Bayne, 2017). 

Habitat review

Ecology

Ecological and functional relationships

Oyster beds are dominated by suspension feeding invertebrates.

  • Ostrea edulis is an active suspension feeder on phytoplankton, bacteria, particulate detritus and dissolved organic matter (DOM) (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960). The production of faeces and pseudofaeces enriches the underlying sediment, providing a rich food source for infauna detritivores, deposit feeders, meiofauna and bacteria.
  • Dense beds of suspension feeding bivalves are important in nutrient cycling in estuarine and coastal ecosystems, transferring phytoplankton primary production and nutrients to benthic secondary production (pelagic-benthic coupling) (Dame, 1996).
  • A model food web for an oyster reef (based on intertidal Crassostrea sp. beds) was presented by Dame (1996).
  • Other suspension feeding epifauna include the ascidians (e.g. Ascidiella aspersa, Ascidiella scabra and Dendrodoa grossularia) and sponges (e.g. Halichondria bowerbanki), hydroids, barnacles (e.g. Balanus balanus), and tube worms such as Spirobranchus triqueter and Polydora ciliata.
  • Infaunal suspension feeders include the tube worms Chaetopterus variopedatus, Sabella pavonina, Myxicola infundibulum, and Lanice conchilega and where present Abra sp. and the tellinids Macomangulus tenuis and Fabulina fabula.
  • Lanice conchilega, Fabulina fabula and Polydora ciliata are also surface deposit feeders on organic particulates and detritus.
  • The enriched sediment probably supports a diverse meiofauna, including nematodes and polychaetes (e.g. Scoloplos armiger and terebellids).
  • The sediment may also support amphipods such as Bathyporeia guilliamsoniana and Ampelisca brevicornis, which have been recorded in native oyster beds (Millar, 1961).
  • Hermit crabs such as Pagurus bernhardus and the common whelk Buccinum undatum may be scavengers on the bed.

A variety of predators feed in oyster beds.

  • Asterias rubens is a general predator occasionally taking oyster spat and oysters but with a preference for mussels and, in their absence, Crepidula fornicata and the American oyster drill Urosalpinx cinerea. Young Asterias rubens feeds on barnacles in preference to oyster spat (Hancock, 1955). Hancock (1955) suggested that Asterias rubens fed significantly more on predators and competitors of the native oyster than on the oysters themselves. However, he also noted that the starfish was still likely to cause severe damage on highly cultivated areas with a high abundance of oysters and their spat. Asterias rubens is itself preyed on by the sun star Crossaster papposus (Hancock, 1958).
  • Predatory gastropods such as the native Sting winkle Ocenebra erinacea and the introduced American oyster drill Urosalpinx cinerea prey on small oysters and oyster spat. For example, 55 -58% of the oyster spat settling in 1953 in Essex oyster beds were destroyed by Urosalpinx cinerea. The dog whelk Nucella lapillus may occasionally take oyster spat (Korringa, 1952; Hancock, 1954; Yonge, 1960). However, only 10% of adults of 3 years of age were taken by Urosalpinx cinerea (Hancock, 1954), suggesting that the risk of predation decreases with increasing oyster size. A similar size refuge from predation is seen in other bivalve beds e.g. Mytilus edulis and the horse mussel Modiolus modiolus.
  • Crabs, such as Carcinus maenas and Hyas araneus are mobile omnivores that prey on oysters and their spat and also on the other fauna associated with oyster beds, including the drills, whelks and starfish (Yonge, 1960).
  • Predatory fish may also enter the bed to feed on the associated species, although Yonge (1960) suggested that fish were not a significant predator of the oysters themselves.

Several species compete with the oyster spat for settlement space on the shells of adult oysters, especially those species that breed at the same time of the year.

  • Ascidiella sp. are know to settle at the same time as oyster spat, competing for the available hard substratum such as oyster shells (living or dead), and subsequently overgrowing spat that are able to settle. However, this may only seriously affect the oyster recruitment where the ascidians occur in any abundance.
  • Barnacles (e.g. Balanus balanus and Eliminius modestus), the tube worm Spirobranchus triqueter and the ascidian Dendrodoa grossularia were also reported to compete for settlement space, especially the barnacles (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Millar, 1961).
  • The introduced slipper limpet Crepidula fornicata competes with the oyster for space and food, and its pseudofaeces may smother the oyster. Where Crepidula fornicata has become abundant the oyster beds have been lost (see sensitivity to introduced species) (Blanchard, 1997).

Seasonal and longer term change

Fish and crabs predators probably migrate further offshore in winter months, reducing predation pressure. Changes in the average summer temperature may have significant effects on recruitment (see recruitment processes below). In addition, Spärck (1951) noted marked changes in the populations of Ostrea edulis in the Limfjord, Denmark between 1852 and 1949. In periods of poor recruitment and the absence of fishing pressure, populations gradually declined, becoming restricted to the most favourable areas of the Limfjord. In some areas there was a 90% decrease in stock. Temperature was probably the most important controlling factor in recruitment in the Limfjord population (see recruitment) (Spärck, 1951). Korringa (1952) noted that while temperature was probably the most important factor in populations at their northern most range of the species, other factors were important in more temperate waters. However, Spärck (1951) demonstrated the importance of recruitment in natural populations of the native oyster and the potential for large fluctuations in population size over time.

Habitat structure and complexity

Oyster beds provide hard substratum for settlement in an otherwise sedimentary habitat and therefore support a diverse range of invertebrates. The oyster bed also modifies the sediment, increasing the amount of shell debris and organically enriching the sediment with faeces and pseudofaeces. Ostrea edulis preferentially settles on adult of the same species (i.e. it is gregarious) resulting in layer upon layer of oysters in the absence of fishing pressure. The layer of living and dead oyster shell probably alters the water flowing over the sediment surface and protects it from erosion. The layers of shell debris and living oyster provide interstices for other organisms. For example, the American oyster Crassostrea virginica can form extensive reefs several metres in height that have been shown to affect the local hydrodynamics and hence larval dispersal and settlement and hence community composition (Lenihan, 1999; Peterson et al., 2000). While, no information concerning the scale of native oyster reefs was found, it is likely that they also affect the local hydrographic regime to some extent.

  • Oyster beds support a diverse epifauna consisting of protozoa, sponges, hydroids, the benthic stages of Aurelia sp., flatworms, ribbon worms, nematodes polychaetes, amphipods and ostracod crustaceans, crabs, sea spiders, gastropod molluscs, ascidians, bryozoans, starfish and sea urchins (Korringa, 1951; Yonge, 1960). Korringa (1951) also noted that the flanges or flaps of the oyster shell provided refuges for some species. Although the exact fauna found will depend on locality, a detailed account of the epifauna of oyster beds in the Oosterschelde is given by Korringa (1951).
  • The sediment surface may be punctuated by burrowing tube worms such as Chaetopterus variopedatus, Sabella pavonina, Myxicola infundibulum, and Lanice conchilega.
  • Burrowing amphipods may occupy the top few cm of the sediment e.g. Bathyporeia guilliamsoniana and Ampelisca brevicornis.
  • The sediment below the oyster bed is enriched by faeces and pseudofaeces and usually contains shell debris accumulated from dead oysters. The infauna will vary with nature of the underlying sediment and the relative proportions of shell debris and faecal deposits. However, macroinfauna probably includes burrowing polychaetes, nematodes, and bivalves (see ecological relationships above).

Productivity

Dame (1996) suggested that dense beds of bivalve suspension feeders increase turnover of nutrients and organic carbon in estuarine (and presumably coastal) environments by effectively transferring pelagic phytoplanktonic primary production to secondary production in the sediments (pelagic-benthic coupling). Increased microbial activity within the enriched sediments underlying the beds, increases the rate of nutrient turnover and hence the productivity of the ecosystem as a whole (Dame, 1996).
Epifloral macroalgae provide some primary productivity to the ecosystem, however, the majority of production with the biotope is secondary production, with organic carbon derived from phytoplankton and organic particulates consumed by suspension feeders, especially the oysters. No estimate of the overall productivity of native oyster beds was found. However, before over-fishing and disease (see importance) oysters beds supported fisheries, suggesting that there are potentially highly productive.

Recruitment processes

The flat oyster
In Ostrea edulis, spawning occurs in the summer months (June to September) and is coincident with spring tides (and the new or full moon) (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960). Spawning is thought to require a minimum temperature (which also probably controls gametogenesis) of 15-16°C (Yonge, 1960) although the exact temperature probably varies with area and local adaptation (Korringa, 1952). Eggs are fertilized internally and incubated to the veliger stage (7-10 days) at which point they are released into the plankton.

Ostrea edulis is highly fecund producing an average of between 91,000 to up to 2 million eggs with increasing age and size. However, good fertilization efficiency requires a minimum population size, so that in small populations not all the eggs may be fertilized (Spärck, 1951). The larvae are pelagic for 11-30 days, providing potentially high levels of dispersal, depending on the local hydrographic regime. Subsequent recruitment however, is dependant on larval growth and mortality due to predation in the plankton, the availability of settlement sites and post-settlement and juvenile mortality.

Good recruitment (settlement) is associated with warm summers whereas poor recruitment occurred in cold summers in the Oosterschelde and Limfjord (Spärck, 1951; Korringa, 1952), and is probably related to larval food availability and developmental time. Widdows (1991) states that any environmental or genetic factor that reduces the rate of growth or development of Mytilus edulis larvae will increase the time spent in the plankton and hence significantly decrease larval survival, which may also be true of most pelagic bivalve larvae.

In areas of strong currents larvae may be swept away form the adult populations to other oyster beds or to areas of unsuitable substratum and lost. Oyster beds on open coasts may be dependent on recruitment from other areas. Oyster beds in enclosed embayments may be self recruiting. Due to the high numbers of larvae produced, a single good recruitment event could potentially significantly increase the population. Oyster larvae will settle on available hard substrata but are gregarious and prefer to settle on adult shells, especially the new growth. However, competition for space (substratum for settlement) from other species that settle at the same time of year e.g. barnacles and ascidians (see ecological relationships), results in high levels of larval and juvenile mortality. Newly settled Ascidiella sp., are known to overgrow and hence kill oyster larvae. In addition, newly settled spat and juveniles are subject to intense mortality due to predation, especially by the oyster drills (Urosalpinx cinerea and Ocenebra erinacea) and starfish. For example, in the Oosterschelde, Korringa (1952) reported 90% mortality in oyster spat by their first winter, with up to 75% being taken by Urosalpinx cinerea, while Hancock (1955) noted that 73% of spat settling in summer 1953 died by December, 55 -58% being taken by Urosalpinx cinerea.

Overall, recruitment in Ostrea edulis is sporadic and dependant of local environmental conditions, including the average summer sea water temperature, predation intensity and the hydrographic regime. Spärck, (1951) reported marked changes in population size due to recruitment failure. In unfavourable year stocks declined naturally (in the absence of fishing pressure) and the population in the Limfjord became restricted to the most favourable sites. In favourable years the stock increased and the population slowly spread from the most favoured locations. However, he concluded that a long series of favourable years was required for recovery of stocks after depletion. For example, after closure of the oyster fishery in 1925, stocks did not recovery their fishery potential until 1947/48, ca 20 years. However, the Limfjord population of Ostrea edulis is at the northern most extent of its range where recruitment may be more dependant on summer temperatures than more southerly temperate populations. Nevertheless, Spärck's data (1951) suggest that several years of favourable recruitment would be required for an Ostrea edulis population to recover.

Other species
The other characterizing species are widespread species, with pelagic larvae, potentially capable of wide dispersal and are therefore, likely to be able to recolonize available substratum rapidly. Although the ascidian tadpole larva is short lived and has a low dispersal capability, fertilization is external in the most conspicuous ascidians in the biotope, Ascidiella sp., which are widespread in distribution and probably capable of rapid recolonization from adjacent or nearby populations.

Time for community to reach maturity

Korringa (1951) noted that many of the Ostrea edulis epifauna were dependant on the oyster for substratum. It is also likely that some burrowing species are dependant of the conditions provided by the bed of Ostrea edulis. Therefore, the time taken for the community to reach maturity will depend primarily on the time taken for the oyster bed to develop (see recruitment processes above), after which recolonization will probably be rapid, and in the order of 1-2 years.

Additional information

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Preferences & Distribution

Habitat preferences

Depth Range 0-5 m, 5-10 m, 10-20 m
Water clarity preferences
Limiting Nutrients
Salinity preferences Full (30-40 psu), Variable (18-40 psu)
Physiographic preferences Estuary, Sea loch or Sea lough
Biological zone preferences Infralittoral, Lower circalittoral, Lower infralittoral, Sublittoral
Substratum/habitat preferences Cobbles, Gravel / shingle, Large to very large boulders, Mixed, Pebbles, Sandy gravel, Sandy mud, Small boulders
Tidal strength preferences Very Weak (negligible), Weak < 1 knot (<0.5 m/sec.)
Wave exposure preferences Extremely sheltered, Sheltered, Very sheltered
Other preferences

Additional Information

The main UK shellfish stocks of the native oyster are now located in the inlets and flats bordering the Thames Estuary, The Solent, River Fal, the west coast of Scotland and Lough Foyle (Anon, 1999c).

Species composition

Species found especially in this biotope

Rare or scarce species associated with this biotope

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Additional information

The MNCR recorded a total of 246 species within this biotope, although not all occurred in a single record. Studies of the fauna of native oyster have been reported for the Oosterschelde (Korringa, 1951), Scottish waters (Millar, 1961), Loch Ryan (Millar, 1963; Howson et al., 1994); and the Essex oyster beds (Mistakidis, 1951). Korringa (1951) listed over 250 species of epifauna on the shells of Ostrea edulis in the Oosterschelde.

Sensitivity review

Sensitivity characteristics of the habitat and relevant characteristic species

The description of this biotope and information on the characterizing species is taken from Connor et al., (2004).  This biotope, SS.SMx.IMx.Ost, describes dense native oyster beds from 0 – 20 m on muddy sand and mixed substrate where large amounts of dead oyster shell are often present.  The native oyster, Ostrea edulis, settles in groups, preferring to settle on an adult of the same species, resulting in layers of oysters.  Layers of oysters form beds, providing substratum and interstices for a diversity of other organisms.  Accumulation of shell material, faeces and pseudofaeces further modify and enrich the sediment.  Other species known to occur within the biotope include ascidians, large polychaetes and sponges.  A turf of seaweeds may also be present (Connor et al., 2004).  The other species that contribute to the biotope have a widespread distribution and take advantage of the substratum or stabilized sediment provided by the population of Ostrea edulis.  The ascidians Ascidiella aspersa and Ascidiella scabra are commonly found on oyster beds but are generally regarded as a competitor with the oysters and their presence is not restricted to this biotope.  A number of marine worms are found within this biotope, one of the most frequently found and most notable is the filter feeding parchment worm, Chaetopterus variopedatus.  The shallow nature of this biotope allows a number of macroalgae to attach to the hard substrata formed by the Ostrea edulis.  Only Ostrea edulis has been chosen to indicate the sensitivity of the biotope.  Loss or damage of this ecosystem engineering species will affect the biotope as a whole, and can determine if the biotope remains in any form.

Resilience and recovery rates of habitat

The native oyster, Ostrea edulis, occurs naturally from Norway to the Mediterranean, from the low intertidal into water depths of about 80 m.  Ostrea edulis were once very common around the coast but they have now virtually disappeared from the intertidal and shallow sublittoral because of over-exploitation, habitat damage and disease.  In some areas, there may be a small amount of natural settlement on the lower shore of introduced species of oyster.  Most populations are now artificially laid for culture and protected by Protection Orders (Fowler, 1999; taken from Tillin & Hull, 2013f).  Dense beds of the oyster Ostrea edulis occur from the low intertidal shore down into the sublittoral.  This species is found on a range of substrata; firm bottoms of mud, rocks, muddy sand, muddy gravel with shells and hard silt (Tillin & Hull, 2013f).  Native oyster beds are sparsely distributed around the UK and Ireland and are recorded from Strangford Lough, Lough Foyle and the west coast of Ireland, Loch Ryan in Scotland, Milford Haven in Wales, and Dawlish Warren, the Dart Estuary and the River Fal in south-west England, and the River Crouch in east England (Tyler-Walters, 2008).

The lifespan of Ostrea edulis is considered to be between 5-10 years (Roberts et al., 2010), with individuals first becoming sexually mature between 3 and 5 years.  Ostrea edulis adults are cemented to the substratum, adult immigration is not possible and recovery is dependent on the larval phaseRecovery of Ostrea edulis populations is dependent on larval recruitment since newly settled juveniles and adults cement themselves to the substratum and are subsequently incapable of migration.  Recruitment in Ostrea edulis is sporadic and dependent on local environmental conditions, including the average summer seawater temperature, predation intensity and the hydrographic regime.  Spawning is thought to require a minimum temperature (which also probably controls gametogenesis) of 15-16°C (Yonge, 1960) although the exact temperature probably varies with area and local adaptation (Korringa, 1952).  Eggs are fertilized internally and incubated to the veliger stage (7-10 days) at which point they are released into the plankton.  Ostrea edulis can be highly fecund, producing an average of between 91,000 to 2 million eggs.  A number that increases with age and size.  However, good fertilization efficiency requires a minimum population size, so that in small populations not all the eggs may be fertilized (Spärck, 1951).  The size of the sexually mature population and the production of larvae are not accurate ways of predicting the success of spatfall (Gravestock et al., 2014).  The larvae are pelagic for 11-30 days, providing potentially high levels of dispersal, depending on the local hydrographic regime.  In areas of strong currents, larvae may be swept away from the adult populations to other oyster beds.  Oyster beds on open coasts may be dependent on recruitment from other areas, and oyster beds in enclosed embayments may be self-recruiting.  The main determinants of larval settlement are substratum availability, adult abundance, and local environmental conditions and hydrographic regime (Roberts et al., 2010).  Oyster settlement is known to be highly sporadic, and spat can suffer mortality of up to 90% (Cole, 1951).  This mortality is due to factors including, but not restricted to; temperature, food availability, suitable settlement areas, and the presence of predators (Cole, 1951; Spärck, 1951; Kennedy & Roberts, 1999; Lancaster, 2014).  Ostrea edulis larvae respond to environmental cues that guide them to settling within the most suitable locations (Walne, 1974; Woolmer et al., 2011).  High light levels (1250 lux) and high food concentrations can influence the level of settlement (Bayne, 1969).  As can the presence of bacterial films (Fitt et al., 1990; Tritar et al., 1992; cited in Mesias-Gransbiller et al., 2013).  An extremely important chemical cue comes from conspecifics.  Bayne (1969) stated that Ostrea edulis larvae are highly gregarious and will preferably settle where larvae have previously settled.  A number of other studies have also found that larvae select well-stocked beds to degraded beds or barren sediment (Cole & Knight-Jones, 1939, 1949; Walne, 1964; Jackson & Wilding 2009; cited in Gravestock, 2014).  In addition, to live settled oysters, spat will also settle selectively on recently dead oysters Woolmer et al., (2011) and oyster cultch (shell) (Kennedy & Roberts, 1999).  Other bivalve cultch can also encourage the settlement of oyster spat, although which species of shell is most beneficial to this is debated (Gravestock et al., 2014).  Good recruitment is associated with warm summers whereas poor recruitment occurred in cold summers in the Oosterschelde and Limfjord (Spärck, 1951; Korringa, 1952), and is probably related to larval food availability and developmental time.  Widdows (1991) states that any environmental or genetic factor that reduces the rate of growth or development of Mytilus edulis larvae will increase the time spent in the plankton and hence significantly decrease larval survival, which may also be true of most pelagic bivalve larvae.  If populations have been reduced considerably then the standing stock can be insufficient to ensure successful spawning (Tyler-Walters, 2008).  Ostrea edulis beds are known to have been severely damaged by trawling and may be replaced by deposit-feeding polychaetes which may influence the recovery of suspension-feeding species (Sewell & Hiscock, 2005; Bergman & van Santbrink, 2000; Gubbay & Knapman, 1999).  Hall (2008) also found limited evidence of recovery of stable biogenic reefs to towed bottom fishing gears, with removal or damage to these biotopes reducing complexity and ability to support communities of high biological diversity. 

Spärck (1951) reported significant changes in population size due to recruitment failure.  In years of bad recruitment, stocks declined naturally (in the absence of fishing pressure) and the population in the Limfjord became restricted to the most favourable sites.  In years of good recruitment, the stock increased and the population increased.  Spärck (1951) concluded that a long series of favourable years was required for recovery.  After the closure of the oyster fishery in Limfjord in 1925, stocks did not recover their fishery potential until 1947/48.  However, the Limfjord population of Ostrea edulis is at the northern-most extent of its range where recruitment may be more dependent on summer temperatures than more southerly temperate populations.  Rees et al. (2001) reported that the population of native oysters in the Crouch estuary increased between 1992 -1997, due to the reduction in TBT concentration in the water column.  Nevertheless, Spärck's (1951) data suggest that several years of favourable recruitment would be required for an Ostrea edulis population to recover.  

The decline in oyster numbers is a global phenomenon with an estimated 85% of oyster reefs lost globally (Bayne, 2017).  In Europe, the abundance of Ostrea edulis declined from the 18th century.  Native oyster beds were considered scarce in Europe as early as the 1950s (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960) and are still regarded as scarce today (Connor et al., 1999a).  For example, the fishery became uneconomical in the Wadden Sea in 1926, surveys in the Firth of Forth found no living oysters in 1957, and the population collapsed in Loch Ryan in the 1930s.  However, the Loch Ryan fishery recovered by 1976 (ca 1 Million oysters) because the fishery was artificially stocked and carefully managed locally (Bayne, 2017).  The picture is similar in North America for both Crassostrea virginica and C. gigas.  For example, in Chesapeake Bay, USA, oyster population decline has been documented since the 1880s. Fishing yield has dropped from ca 550 g/m2 in 1884 to 22 g/m2 in 1991, and current models predict a continued decline in the population (Bayne, 2017). The population dynamics of oyster populations are dependent on positive feedback between adult abundance and recruitment via the provision of reef habitat for the settlement of larvae (e.g. adult shell), and the growth of the height of the reef about the sediment and the supply of food (facilitated by current flow) (Bayne, 2017).

Following the reduction in oyster populations, re-establishment can be restricted by invasive non-native species.  One such species is Crepidula fornicata, a species which can become dominant in oyster habitats and restrict recovery through changes to the environment and competition (Blanchard, 1997; Hawkins et al., 2005; Laing et al., 2005; cited in Gravestock et al., 2014; Helmer et al., 2019; Preston et al., 2020).  In addition, newly settled spat and juveniles are subject to intense mortality due to predation, especially by the oyster drills (Urosalpinx cinerea an invasive non-native species, and Ocenebra erinacea) and starfish.  For example, in the Oosterschelde, Korringa (1952) reported 90% mortality in oyster spat by their first winter, with up to 75% being taken by Urosalpinx cinerea, while Hancock (1955) noted that 73% of spat settling in the summer of 1953 died by December, 55 -58% being taken by Urosalpinx cinerea.  Newly settled Ascidiella sp., are known to overgrow and hence kill oyster larvae. 

Resilience assessment.  Recovery is likely to be slow even within or from established populations.  Larvae require hard substratum for settlement with a significant preference for the shells of adults, so where the adult population has been removed, especially where shell debris has also been removed, recovery is likely to be prolonged.  For this reason, resilience to a pressure that removes part of the Ostrea edulis population is given as ‘Low’ (10 -25 years for return).  An exception is made for permanent or ongoing (long-term) pressures where recovery is not possible as the pressure is irreversible, or a pressure which entirely removed the population of Ostrea edulis, in which case resilience is assessed as ‘Very low’ by default.

The resilience and the ability to recover from human-induced pressures is a combination of the environmental conditions of the site, the frequency (repeated disturbances versus a one-off event) and the intensity of the disturbance. Recovery of impacted populations will always be mediated by stochastic events and processes acting over different scales including, but not limited to, local habitat conditions, further impacts and processes such as larval-supply and recruitment between populations. Full recovery is defined as the return to the state of the habitat that existed prior to impact. This does not necessarily mean that every component species has returned to its prior condition, abundance or extent but that the relevant functional components are present and the habitat is structurally and functionally recognisable as the initial habitat of interest. It should be noted that the recovery rates are only indicative of the recovery potential.

Climate Change Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Global warming (extreme) [Show more]

Global warming (extreme)

Extreme emission scenario (by the end of this century 2081-2100) benchmark of:

  • A 5°C rise in SST and NBT (coastal to the shelf seas),

  • A 6°C rise in surface air temperature (in eulittoral and supralittoral habitats).

  • A 1°C rise in Deep-sea habitats (>200 m) off the continental shelf, and

  • A 5°C rise in surface air temperature in intertidal habitats exclusive to Scotland. Further detail.

Evidence

Ostrea edulis is native to the North-East Atlantic and can be found from the coast of Norway south through the North Sea down to the Iberian Peninsula and the Atlantic coast of Morocco and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas (UKBAP, 1999), suggesting tolerance to a wide range of temperatures.

Filtration rate, metabolic rate, assimilation efficiency and growth rates of adult Ostrea edulis increase with temperature (Newell et al., 1977; Mann, 1979; Haure et al., 1998).  Growth was predicted to be optimal at 17°C or, for short periods, at 25°C (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Buxton et al., 1981; Hutchinson & Hawkins, 1992; Haure et al., 1998;), whilst maximum clearance efficiency occurs at 20°C (Newell et al., 1977). No upper lethal temperature was found. Kinne (1970) reported that gill tissue activity fell to zero between 40-42°C, although values derived from single tissue studies should be viewed with caution.  Buxton et al. 1981 reported that specimens survived short-term exposure to 30°C.

Spärck's (1951) data suggest that temperature is an important factor in the recruitment of Ostrea edulis, especially at the northern extremes of its range and Korringa (1952) reported that warm summers resulted in good recruitment.  Spawning around Europe was initiated once the temperature had risen to 13-16°C (Burke et al., 2008; Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960) although, in Canada, spawning appeared to occur at 18°C, showing local adaptation (Burke et al., 2008). Davis & Calabrese (1969) reported that larvae grew faster with increasing temperature and that survival was optimal between from 12.5 - 27.5°C but that survival was poor at 30°C. Prado et al. (2016) found that temperature did not affect the survival of spat, but that survival of umbonate and veliger larvae was maintained at temperatures up to 26°C but decreased by almost 50 % at 30°C. Pediveliger larval survival was low at all experimental temperatures but declined at temperatures ≥ 22°C.  As the adult stage appears tolerant to high temperatures, larval temperature tolerance may set the limit for thermal optimums.  Therefore, recruitment and the long-term survival of an oyster bed is probably affected by temperature and may benefit from an increase in temperature.

Sensitivity assessment. Sea surface temperatures around the UK are currently between 6-19°C (Huthnance, 2010). Under the three scenarios (middle and high emission and extreme), summer sea temperatures in the south of the UK may rise to temperatures of 22, 23, and 24°C respectively, whilst in Scotland, summer sea surface temperatures may rise to 17, 18, and 19°C. In winter, minimum temperatures are expected to rise to 12, 13, and 14°C in the south and to 9, 10, and 11°C in the north. Ostrea edulis is a eurythermal species, and the maximum upper thermal limit of this species has not been defined. Spawning is induced when water temperatures hit 15°C and significant larval mortality has been shown at temperatures ≥ 22°C (Prado et al., 2016), although increasingly warm waters are likely to induce an earlier spawning season spawning so that larval stages avoid summer high temperatures. As ocean warming will occur gradually, and this species occurs in the Mediterranean, it is expected that Ostrea edulis will be able to withstand increases in temperature predicted for each of the three scenarios. Therefore, under the middle and high emission and extreme scenarios, resistance has been assessed as ‘High’, whilst resilience is assessed as ‘High’. This biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ to ocean warming.

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Not sensitive
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Medium
Medium
Help
Global warming (high) [Show more]

Global warming (high)

High emission scenario (by the end of this century 2081-2100) benchmark of:

  • A 4°C rise in SST, NBT (coastal to the shelf seas) and surface air temperature (in eulittoral and supralittoral habitats).

  • A 1°C rise in Deep-sea habitats (>200 m) off the continental shelf, and

  • A 3°C rise in surface air temperature in intertidal habitats exclusive to Scotland. Further detail.

Evidence

Ostrea edulis is native to the North-East Atlantic and can be found from the coast of Norway south through the North Sea down to the Iberian Peninsula and the Atlantic coast of Morocco and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas (UKBAP, 1999), suggesting tolerance to a wide range of temperatures.

Filtration rate, metabolic rate, assimilation efficiency and growth rates of adult Ostrea edulis increase with temperature (Newell et al., 1977; Mann, 1979; Haure et al., 1998).  Growth was predicted to be optimal at 17°C or, for short periods, at 25°C (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Buxton et al., 1981; Hutchinson & Hawkins, 1992; Haure et al., 1998;), whilst maximum clearance efficiency occurs at 20°C (Newell et al., 1977). No upper lethal temperature was found. Kinne (1970) reported that gill tissue activity fell to zero between 40-42°C, although values derived from single tissue studies should be viewed with caution.  Buxton et al. 1981 reported that specimens survived short-term exposure to 30°C.

Spärck's (1951) data suggest that temperature is an important factor in the recruitment of Ostrea edulis, especially at the northern extremes of its range and Korringa (1952) reported that warm summers resulted in good recruitment.  Spawning around Europe was initiated once the temperature had risen to 13-16°C (Burke et al., 2008; Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960) although, in Canada, spawning appeared to occur at 18°C, showing local adaptation (Burke et al., 2008). Davis & Calabrese (1969) reported that larvae grew faster with increasing temperature and that survival was optimal between from 12.5 - 27.5°C but that survival was poor at 30°C. Prado et al. (2016) found that temperature did not affect the survival of spat, but that survival of umbonate and veliger larvae was maintained at temperatures up to 26°C but decreased by almost 50 % at 30°C. Pediveliger larval survival was low at all experimental temperatures but declined at temperatures ≥ 22°C.  As the adult stage appears tolerant to high temperatures, larval temperature tolerance may set the limit for thermal optimums.  Therefore, recruitment and the long-term survival of an oyster bed is probably affected by temperature and may benefit from an increase in temperature.

Sensitivity assessment. Sea surface temperatures around the UK are currently between 6-19°C (Huthnance, 2010). Under the three scenarios (middle and high emission and extreme), summer sea temperatures in the south of the UK may rise to temperatures of 22, 23, and 24°C respectively, whilst in Scotland, summer sea surface temperatures may rise to 17, 18, and 19°C. In winter, minimum temperatures are expected to rise to 12, 13, and 14°C in the south and to 9, 10, and 11°C in the north. Ostrea edulis is a eurythermal species, and the maximum upper thermal limit of this species has not been defined. Spawning is induced when water temperatures hit 15°C and significant larval mortality has been shown at temperatures ≥ 22°C (Prado et al., 2016), although increasingly warm waters are likely to induce an earlier spawning season spawning so that larval stages avoid summer high temperatures. As ocean warming will occur gradually, and this species occurs in the Mediterranean, it is expected that Ostrea edulis will be able to withstand increases in temperature predicted for each of the three scenarios. Therefore, under the middle and high emission and extreme scenarios, resistance has been assessed as ‘High’, whilst resilience is assessed as ‘High’. This biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ to ocean warming.

High
High
Medium
Medium
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
High
Medium
Medium
Help
Global warming (middle) [Show more]

Global warming (middle)

Middle emission scenario (by the end of this century 2081-2100) benchmark of:

  • A 3°C rise in SST, NBT (coastal to the shelf seas) and surface air temperature (in eulittoral and supralittoral habitats).

  • A 1°C rise in Deep-sea habitats (>200 m) off the continental shelf.

  • A 2°C rise in surface air temperature in intertidal habitats exclusive to Scotland. Further detail.

Evidence

Ostrea edulis is native to the North-East Atlantic and can be found from the coast of Norway south through the North Sea down to the Iberian Peninsula and the Atlantic coast of Morocco and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas (UKBAP, 1999), suggesting tolerance to a wide range of temperatures.

Filtration rate, metabolic rate, assimilation efficiency and growth rates of adult Ostrea edulis increase with temperature (Newell et al., 1977; Mann, 1979; Haure et al., 1998).  Growth was predicted to be optimal at 17°C or, for short periods, at 25°C (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Buxton et al., 1981; Hutchinson & Hawkins, 1992; Haure et al., 1998;), whilst maximum clearance efficiency occurs at 20°C (Newell et al., 1977). No upper lethal temperature was found. Kinne (1970) reported that gill tissue activity fell to zero between 40-42°C, although values derived from single tissue studies should be viewed with caution.  Buxton et al. 1981 reported that specimens survived short-term exposure to 30°C.

Spärck's (1951) data suggest that temperature is an important factor in the recruitment of Ostrea edulis, especially at the northern extremes of its range and Korringa (1952) reported that warm summers resulted in good recruitment.  Spawning around Europe was initiated once the temperature had risen to 13-16°C (Burke et al., 2008; Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960) although, in Canada, spawning appeared to occur at 18°C, showing local adaptation (Burke et al., 2008). Davis & Calabrese (1969) reported that larvae grew faster with increasing temperature and that survival was optimal between from 12.5 - 27.5°C but that survival was poor at 30°C. Prado et al. (2016) found that temperature did not affect the survival of spat, but that survival of umbonate and veliger larvae was maintained at temperatures up to 26°C but decreased by almost 50 % at 30°C. Pediveliger larval survival was low at all experimental temperatures but declined at temperatures ≥ 22°C.  As the adult stage appears tolerant to high temperatures, larval temperature tolerance may set the limit for thermal optimums.  Therefore, recruitment and the long-term survival of an oyster bed is probably affected by temperature and may benefit from an increase in temperature.

Sensitivity assessment. Sea surface temperatures around the UK are currently between 6-19°C (Huthnance, 2010). Under the three scenarios (middle and high emission and extreme), summer sea temperatures in the south of the UK may rise to temperatures of 22, 23, and 24°C respectively, whilst in Scotland, summer sea surface temperatures may rise to 17, 18, and 19°C. In winter, minimum temperatures are expected to rise to 12, 13, and 14°C in the south and to 9, 10, and 11°C in the north. Ostrea edulis is a eurythermal species, and the maximum upper thermal limit of this species has not been defined. Spawning is induced when water temperatures hit 15°C and significant larval mortality has been shown at temperatures ≥ 22°C (Prado et al., 2016), although increasingly warm waters are likely to induce an earlier spawning season spawning so that larval stages avoid summer high temperatures. As ocean warming will occur gradually, and this species occurs in the Mediterranean, it is expected that Ostrea edulis will be able to withstand increases in temperature predicted for each of the three scenarios. Therefore, under the middle and high emission and extreme scenarios, resistance has been assessed as ‘High’, whilst resilience is assessed as ‘High’. This biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ to ocean warming.

High
High
Medium
Medium
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
High
Medium
Medium
Help
Marine heatwaves (high) [Show more]

Marine heatwaves (high)

High emission scenario benchmark: A marine heatwave occurring every two years, with a mean duration of 120 days, and a maximum intensity of 3.5°C. Further detail.

Evidence

Marine heatwaves due to increased air-sea heat flux are predicted to occur more frequently, last for longer and at increased intensity by the end of this century under both middle and high emission scenarios (Frölicher et al., 2018). Whilst extreme cold winters have caused mass mortality of Ostrea edulis (Crisp, 1964), there is little available evidence of the impact of a marine heatwave on Ostrea edulis, although adult life stages appear to be able to withstand high temperatures and, in the laboratory, no mortality has been observed at temperatures of 30°C (Newell et al., 1977, Haure et al., 1998). Larval stages appear less tolerant of high temperatures and suffer a significant decrease in survival as temperatures reach ≥22°C (Prado et al., 2016), therefore heatwaves may have a negative impact on recruitment.

Sensitivity Assessment. Under the middle emission scenario, if heatwaves occurred every three years, with a maximum intensity of 2°C for 80 days by the end of this century, heatwaves could lead to summer sea temperatures reaching up to 24°C in southern England. Under the high emission scenario, if heatwaves occur every two years by the end of this century, reaching a maximum intensity of 3.5°C for 120 days, the heatwave could last the entire summer with temperatures reaching up to 26.5°C in the south of the UK. Ostrea edulis is thought to have an upper thermal limit of above 30°C, although maximum growth and clearance efficiency occur 17 - 25°C (see Global Warming). As such, mature Ostrea edulis are likely to be able to tolerate a heatwave of this magnitude, although if a heatwave of either of these magnitudes occurs during the larval stage, this may lead to larval mortality. Therefore, resistance has been assessed as ‘Medium’. Ostrea edulis has a high fecundity (between 500 000 and 1 million eggs per spawning) and may spawn the following year, so recovery has been assessed as ‘High’, leading to an assessment of ‘Low’ for this biotope under both the middle and high emission scenario.

Medium
Medium
Medium
Medium
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Low
Medium
Medium
Medium
Help
Marine heatwaves (middle) [Show more]

Marine heatwaves (middle)

Middle emission scenario benchmark:  A marine heatwave occurring every three years, with a mean duration of 80 days, with a maximum intensity of 2°C. Further detail.

Evidence

Marine heatwaves due to increased air-sea heat flux are predicted to occur more frequently, last for longer and at increased intensity by the end of this century under both middle and high emission scenarios (Frölicher et al., 2018). Whilst extreme cold winters have caused mass mortality of Ostrea edulis (Crisp, 1964), there is little available evidence of the impact of a marine heatwave on Ostrea edulis, although adult life stages appear to be able to withstand high temperatures and, in the laboratory, no mortality has been observed at temperatures of 30°C (Newell et al., 1977, Haure et al., 1998). Larval stages appear less tolerant of high temperatures and suffer a significant decrease in survival as temperatures reach ≥22°C (Prado et al., 2016), therefore heatwaves may have a negative impact on recruitment.

Sensitivity Assessment. Under the middle emission scenario, if heatwaves occurred every three years, with a maximum intensity of 2°C for 80 days by the end of this century, heatwaves could lead to summer sea temperatures reaching up to 24°C in southern England. Under the high emission scenario, if heatwaves occur every two years by the end of this century, reaching a maximum intensity of 3.5°C for 120 days, the heatwave could last the entire summer with temperatures reaching up to 26.5°C in the south of the UK. Ostrea edulis is thought to have an upper thermal limit of above 30°C, although maximum growth and clearance efficiency occur 17 - 25°C (see Global Warming). As such, mature Ostrea edulis are likely to be able to tolerate a heatwave of this magnitude, although if a heatwave of either of these magnitudes occurs during the larval stage, this may lead to larval mortality. Therefore, resistance has been assessed as ‘Medium’. Ostrea edulis has a high fecundity (between 500 000 and 1 million eggs per spawning) and may spawn the following year, so recovery has been assessed as ‘High’, leading to an assessment of ‘Low’ for this biotope under both the middle and high emission scenario.

Medium
Medium
Medium
Medium
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Low
Medium
Medium
Medium
Help
Ocean acidification (high) [Show more]

Ocean acidification (high)

High emission scenario benchmark: a further decrease in pH of 0.35 (annual mean) and corresponding 120% increase in H+ ions , seasonal aragonite saturation of 20% of UK coastal waters and North Sea bottom waters, and the aragonite saturation horizon in the NE Atlantic, off the continental shelf, occurring at a depth of 400 m by the end of this century 2081-2100. Further detail 

Evidence

Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have led to the average pH of sea surface waters dropping from 8.25 in the 1700s to 8.14 in the 1990s (Jacobson, 2005), and is expected to drop by a further 0.35 units by the end of this century, dependent on emission scenario. In general, it is thought that calcifying invertebrates will be more sensitive to ocean acidification than non-calcifying invertebrates, which appear to have a more mixed response (Hofmann et al., 2010). It must be noted that many species show variation in their response to pCO2 independent of their taxonomic group or habitat preferences (Widdicombe & Spicer, 2008; Kroeker et al., 2013).

Whilst Ostrea edulis is a calcifying organism, it appears relatively robust to ocean acidification at levels expected for the end of this century (Prado et al., 2016, Lemasson et al., 2018), unlike other species of oyster such as Magallana gigas (formerly Crassostrea gigas) (Barton et al., 2012, Lemasson et al., 2018) and Ostrea lurida (Hettinger et al., 2013), which exhibit negative responses to ocean acidification. Survival rates of the larvae of Ostrea edulis increased in response to ocean acidification, suggesting a positive benefit of increased hypercapnia (Prado et al., 2016). This is in contrast to laboratory experiments on Ostrea lurida that, when exposed to a 0.3 unit pH decrease, led to a decrease in growth and the percentage of larvae that went on to settle and metamorphose into spat (Hettinger et al., 2013). Adult Ostrea edulis did not appear affected by an experimental decrease in pH, whilst Magallana gigas exhibited a decrease in clearance rate and condition index (Lemasson et al., 2018). Whilst negative impacts on the animal were not observed, Sezer et al. (2018) noticed bleaching of the oyster shells in response to experimental acidification, which was suggested may be due to dissolution of the periostracum and/ or a change in the micro-community on the shell surface.

Sensitivity Assessment. Experimental evidence suggests that Ostrea edulis is robust to future levels of ocean acidification projected for both the middle emission and high emission scenarios. Therefore, under both the middle and high emission scenarios, resistance is assessed as ‘High’, and resilience is assessed as ‘High’ leading to a sensitivity assessment of ‘Not sensitive’.

High
High
High
High
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
High
High
High
Help
Ocean acidification (middle) [Show more]

Ocean acidification (middle)

Middle emission scenario benchmark: a further decrease in pH of 0.15 (annual mean) and corresponding 35% increase in H+ ions with no coastal aragonite undersaturation and the aragonite saturation horizon in the NE Atlantic, off the continental shelf, at a depth of 800 m by the end of this century 2081-2100. Further detail.

Evidence

Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have led to the average pH of sea surface waters dropping from 8.25 in the 1700s to 8.14 in the 1990s (Jacobson, 2005), and is expected to drop by a further 0.35 units by the end of this century, dependent on emission scenario. In general, it is thought that calcifying invertebrates will be more sensitive to ocean acidification than non-calcifying invertebrates, which appear to have a more mixed response (Hofmann et al., 2010). It must be noted that many species show variation in their response to pCO2 independent of their taxonomic group or habitat preferences (Widdicombe & Spicer, 2008; Kroeker et al., 2013).

Whilst Ostrea edulis is a calcifying organism, it appears relatively robust to ocean acidification at levels expected for the end of this century (Prado et al., 2016, Lemasson et al., 2018), unlike other species of oyster such as Magallana gigas (formerly Crassostrea gigas) (Barton et al., 2012, Lemasson et al., 2018) and Ostrea lurida (Hettinger et al., 2013), which exhibit negative responses to ocean acidification. Survival rates of the larvae of Ostrea edulis increased in response to ocean acidification, suggesting a positive benefit of increased hypercapnia (Prado et al., 2016). This is in contrast to laboratory experiments on Ostrea lurida that, when exposed to a 0.3 unit pH decrease, led to a decrease in growth and the percentage of larvae that went on to settle and metamorphose into spat (Hettinger et al., 2013). Adult Ostrea edulis did not appear affected by an experimental decrease in pH, whilst Magallana gigas exhibited a decrease in clearance rate and condition index (Lemasson et al., 2018). Whilst negative impacts on the animal were not observed, Sezer et al. (2018) noticed bleaching of the oyster shells in response to experimental acidification, which was suggested may be due to dissolution of the periostracum and/ or a change in the micro-community on the shell surface.

Sensitivity Assessment. Experimental evidence suggests that Ostrea edulis is robust to future levels of ocean acidification projected for both the middle emission and high emission scenarios. Therefore, under both the middle and high emission scenarios, resistance is assessed as ‘High’, and resilience is assessed as ‘High’ leading to a sensitivity assessment of ‘Not sensitive’.

High
High
High
High
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
High
High
High
Help
Sea level rise (extreme) [Show more]

Sea level rise (extreme)

Extreme scenario benchmark: a 107 cm rise in average UK by the end of this century (2018-2100). Further detail.

Evidence

Sea-level rise is occurring through a combination of thermal expansion and ice melt.  Sea levels have risen 1-3 mm/yr. in the last century (Cazenave & Nerem, 2004, Church et al., 2004, Church & White, 2006).  This biotope is recorded between 0 – 20 m depth in the UK, although Ostrea edulis can be found at depths of up to 50 m (OSPAR, 2008).  Therefore, an increase in depth of between 50 – 107 cm is unlikely to have large implications for this species.

Ostrea edulis beds occur on shallow sublittoral muddy mixed sediment in sheltered environments with weak tidal streams (JNCC).  Understanding of how sea-level rise will affect exposure or tidal energy is fraught with uncertainty, although evidence appears to suggest that any alterations will be non-linear (Pickering et al., 2012, Li et al., 2016). Modelling potential outcomes of sea-level rise on the tidal and residual currents in the Bohai Sea, China showed effects were site-dependent, with energy either increasing or decreasing (Li et al., 2016). Similarly, Pickering et al. (2012) found a similar pattern around the UK for tidal amplitude. The effects of sea-level rise and increased wave action may be increased further due to storms and storm surges.  IPCC (2019) note that the frequency of extreme sea-level events (e.g. due to storms) are predicted to increase as sea-level rises, however, there is no consensus on the future storm and, hence, wave climate around UK coasts (Mossman et al., 2015, Lowe et al., 2018, Palmer et al., 2018).

Sensitivity assessment. This habitat occurs from 0 - 20 m depth, although Ostrea edulis beds can be found at depths of up to 50 m. Any change to the habitat in terms of its exposure or tidal currents is likely to negatively impact this biotope, although evidence suggests that changes to tidal currents and tidal amplitude with sea-level rise will be site-specific, and cannot be evaluated on a UK-wide basis. Therefore, under the available evidence, resistance to sea-level rise has been assessed as ‘High’ for both the middle (50 cm) and high (70 cm) emission scenario, and the extreme scenario (107 cm). As no recovery is deemed necessary, resilience has been assessed as ‘High’, and therefore this biotope has been classified as ‘Not sensitive’ to sea-level rise at each of the benchmarks albeit with ‘Low’ confidence.

High
Low
NR
NR
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
Help
Sea level rise (high) [Show more]

Sea level rise (high)

High emission scenario benchmark: a 70 cm rise in average UK by the end of this century (2018-2100). Further detail.

Evidence

Sea-level rise is occurring through a combination of thermal expansion and ice melt.  Sea levels have risen 1-3 mm/yr. in the last century (Cazenave & Nerem, 2004, Church et al., 2004, Church & White, 2006).  This biotope is recorded between 0 – 20 m depth in the UK, although Ostrea edulis can be found at depths of up to 50 m (OSPAR, 2008).  Therefore, an increase in depth of between 50 – 107 cm is unlikely to have large implications for this species.

Ostrea edulis beds occur on shallow sublittoral muddy mixed sediment in sheltered environments with weak tidal streams (JNCC).  Understanding of how sea-level rise will affect exposure or tidal energy is fraught with uncertainty, although evidence appears to suggest that any alterations will be non-linear (Pickering et al., 2012, Li et al., 2016). Modelling potential outcomes of sea-level rise on the tidal and residual currents in the Bohai Sea, China showed effects were site-dependent, with energy either increasing or decreasing (Li et al., 2016). Similarly, Pickering et al. (2012) found a similar pattern around the UK for tidal amplitude. The effects of sea-level rise and increased wave action may be increased further due to storms and storm surges.  IPCC (2019) note that the frequency of extreme sea-level events (e.g. due to storms) are predicted to increase as sea-level rises, however, there is no consensus on the future storm and, hence, wave climate around UK coasts (Mossman et al., 2015, Lowe et al., 2018, Palmer et al., 2018).

Sensitivity assessment. This habitat occurs from 0 - 20 m depth, although Ostrea edulis beds can be found at depths of up to 50 m. Any change to the habitat in terms of its exposure or tidal currents is likely to negatively impact this biotope, although evidence suggests that changes to tidal currents and tidal amplitude with sea-level rise will be site-specific, and cannot be evaluated on a UK-wide basis. Therefore, under the available evidence, resistance to sea-level rise has been assessed as ‘High’ for both the middle (50 cm) and high (70 cm) emission scenario, and the extreme scenario (107 cm). As no recovery is deemed necessary, resilience has been assessed as ‘High’, and therefore this biotope has been classified as ‘Not sensitive’ to sea-level rise at each of the benchmarks albeit with ‘Low’ confidence.

High
Low
NR
NR
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
Help
Sea level rise (middle) [Show more]

Sea level rise (middle)

Middle emission scenario benchmark: a 50 cm rise in average UK sea-level rise by the end of this century (2081-2100). Further detail.

Evidence

Sea-level rise is occurring through a combination of thermal expansion and ice melt.  Sea levels have risen 1-3 mm/yr. in the last century (Cazenave & Nerem, 2004, Church et al., 2004, Church & White, 2006).  This biotope is recorded between 0 – 20 m depth in the UK, although Ostrea edulis can be found at depths of up to 50 m (OSPAR, 2008).  Therefore, an increase in depth of between 50 – 107 cm is unlikely to have large implications for this species.

Ostrea edulis beds occur on shallow sublittoral muddy mixed sediment in sheltered environments with weak tidal streams (JNCC).  Understanding of how sea-level rise will affect exposure or tidal energy is fraught with uncertainty, although evidence appears to suggest that any alterations will be non-linear (Pickering et al., 2012, Li et al., 2016). Modelling potential outcomes of sea-level rise on the tidal and residual currents in the Bohai Sea, China showed effects were site-dependent, with energy either increasing or decreasing (Li et al., 2016). Similarly, Pickering et al. (2012) found a similar pattern around the UK for tidal amplitude. The effects of sea-level rise and increased wave action may be increased further due to storms and storm surges.  IPCC (2019) note that the frequency of extreme sea-level events (e.g. due to storms) are predicted to increase as sea-level rises, however, there is no consensus on the future storm and, hence, wave climate around UK coasts (Mossman et al., 2015, Lowe et al., 2018, Palmer et al., 2018).

Sensitivity assessment. This habitat occurs from 0 - 20 m depth, although Ostrea edulis beds can be found at depths of up to 50 m. Any change to the habitat in terms of its exposure or tidal currents is likely to negatively impact this biotope, although evidence suggests that changes to tidal currents and tidal amplitude with sea-level rise will be site-specific, and cannot be evaluated on a UK-wide basis. Therefore, under the available evidence, resistance to sea-level rise has been assessed as ‘High’ for both the middle (50 cm) and high (70 cm) emission scenario, and the extreme scenario (107 cm). As no recovery is deemed necessary, resilience has been assessed as ‘High’, and therefore this biotope has been classified as ‘Not sensitive’ to sea-level rise at each of the benchmarks albeit with ‘Low’ confidence.

High
Low
NR
NR
Help
High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
Help

Hydrological Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Temperature increase (local) [Show more]

Temperature increase (local)

Benchmark. A 5°C increase in temperature for one month, or 2°C for one year. Further detail

Evidence

Filtration rate, metabolic rate, assimilation efficiency and growth rates of adult Ostrea edulis increase with temperature.  Growth was predicted to be optimal at 17°C or, for short periods, at 25°C (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Buxton et al., 1981; Hutchinson & Hawkins, 1992).  Huchinson & Hawkins (1992) noted that temperature and salinity were co-dependent, so that high temperatures and low salinity resulted in marked mortality, no individuals surviving more than 7 days at 16 psu and 25°C, although these conditions rarely occurred in nature.  No upper lethal temperature was found, although Kinne (1970) reported that gill tissue activity fell to zero between 40-42°C, although values derived from single tissue studies should be viewed with caution.  Buxton et al. 1981 reported that specimens survived short-term exposure to 30°C.  Ostrea edulis and many of the other species in the biotope occur from the Mediterranean to the Norwegian coast and are unlikely to be adversely affected by long-term changes in temperatures in Britain and Ireland.

Spärck's (1951) data suggest that temperature is an important factor in recruitment of Ostrea edulis, especially at the northern extremes of its range and Korringa (1952) reported that warm summers resulted in good recruitment.  Spawning is initiated once the temperature has risen to 15-16°C, although local adaptation is likely (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960).  Davis & Calabrese (1969) reported that larvae grew faster with increasing temperature and that survival was optimal between from 12.5 - 27.5°C but that survival was poor at 30°C.  Therefore, recruitment and the long-term survival of an oyster bed is probably affected by temperature and may benefit from both short and long-term increases.

Most of the other characterizing species within the biotope have a wide distribution in Europe suggesting that they are able tolerate a wider range of temperatures than found in British waters.  Delicate species may not be so tolerant and mobile species may leave the biotope temporarily resulting in a decline in species richness.

Sensitivity assessment.  Overall biotope resistance to the pressure at the benchmark is assessed as ‘High’ with a consequent resilience of ‘High’.  Therefore this biotope is ‘Not sensitive’ to the pressure at the benchmark level.

High
High
High
Medium
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High
High
High
Medium
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Not sensitive
High
High
Medium
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Temperature decrease (local) [Show more]

Temperature decrease (local)

Benchmark. A 5°C decrease in temperature for one month, or 2°C for one year. Further detail

Evidence

Hutchinson & Hawkins (1992) suggested that Ostrea edulis, the dominant species in this biotope, switched to a reduced, winter metabolic state below 10 °C that enabled it to survive low temperatures and low salinities encountered in shallow coastal waters around Britain.  Davis & Calabrese (1969) also noted that larval survival was poor at 10 °C.  Korringa (1952) reported that British, Dutch and Danish oysters can withstand 1.5°C for several weeks.  However, heavy mortalities of native oyster were reported after the severe winters of 1939/40 (Orton, 1940) and 1962/63 (Waugh, 1964).  Mortality was attributed to relaxation of the adductor muscle so that the shell gaped, resulting in increased susceptibility to low salinities or to clogging with silt.

Low temperatures and cold summers are correlated with poor recruitment in Ostrea edulis, presumably due to reduced food availability and longer larval developmental time, especially at the northern limits of its range. Therefore, a reduction in temperature may result in reduced recruitment and a greater variation in the populations of Ostrea edulis.

The severe winters of 1939/40 and 1962/63 (Orton, 1940; Waugh, 1964) also resulted in the death of associated fauna, e.g. Sabella pavonina and other polychaetes died in great numbers, Crepidula fornicata incurred about 25% mortality and Ocenebra erinacea died in large numbers, while only small Carcinus maenas remained on the beds (Orton, 1940; Waugh, 1964). However, starfish, crabs such as Hyas araneus and Urosalpinx cinerea and Ascidiella aspersa were little affected (Orton, 1940; Waugh, 1964).

Mobile predatory species found within this biotope, such as fish and crabs, probably migrate further offshore in winter months, reducing predation pressure.  Changes in the average summer temperature may have significant effects on recruitment.  In addition, Spärck (1951) noted marked changes in the populations of Ostrea edulis in the Limfjord, Denmark between 1852 and 1949.  In periods of poor recruitment and the absence of fishing pressure, populations gradually declined, becoming restricted to the most favourable areas of the Limfjord.  In some areas there was a 90% decrease in stock. Temperature was probably the most important controlling factor in recruitment in the Limfjord population (Spärck, 1951).

Sensitivity assessment.  Decreases in temperature experienced in a severe winter are more extreme than at this pressure benchmark.  However, long-term decreases in temperature could potentially effect overall recruitment and other members of the community are intolerant of short-term acute decreases in temperature.  Resistance is assessed as ‘Medium’, and resilience have been assessed as ‘Low’ which, results in the sensitivity of this biotope being ‘Medium’ to the pressure at the benchmark.

Medium
High
High
Medium
Help
Medium
High
High
Medium
Help
Medium
High
High
Medium
Help
Salinity increase (local) [Show more]

Salinity increase (local)

Benchmark. A increase in one MNCR salinity category above the usual range of the biotope or habitat. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is found subtidally in full to variable salinity waters and is unlikely to experience increased salinity waters.  Hyper-saline effluent may be damaging but no information concerning the effects of increased salinity on oyster beds was found.  Therefore an assessment of ‘No evidence’ is given.

No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
Help
Salinity decrease (local) [Show more]

Salinity decrease (local)

Benchmark. A decrease in one MNCR salinity category above the usual range of the biotope or habitat. Further detail

Evidence

Ostrea edulis is euryhaline and colonizes estuaries and coastal waters exposed to freshwater influence (Yonge, 1960).  Yonge (1960) reported that the flat oyster could not withstand salinities below 23 psu.  However, Hutchinson & Hawkins (1992) noted that scope for growth was severely affected below 22 psu, probably because the oyster's valves were closed, but that 19 -16 psu could be tolerated if the temperature did not exceed 20°C.  At 25°C animals did not survive more than 7 days at 16 psu.  Hutchinson & Hawkins (1992) noted that at low temperatures (10°C or less) the metabolic rate was minimal.  This may help Ostrea edulis survive in low salinities associated with storm runoff.

Several of the characterizing species in this biotope are commonly found in estuarine and full salinity waters and are probably tolerant of reduced salinity, e.g. Lanice conchilega and Ascidiella aspersa will tolerate salinities as low as 18psu (Fish & Fish, 1996).  However, this biotope has only been recorded from full salinity habitats, therefore, a proportion of the epifauna and infauna may not tolerate a reduction in salinity and may be lost.  Predatory starfish and other echinoderms are generally not able to tolerate low salinity are may be excluded.

Sensitivity assessment.  The oyster bed may not be adversely damaged by a decrease in salinity comparable to the benchmark, and can probably tolerate short-term acute reductions in salinity due to runoff.  However, a decrease in the salinity regime for a year is likely to have a negative impact on the biotope.  There is little evidence to support this, however, records of this biotope being found only in fully marine conditions (Connor et al., 2004) suggests that this biotope would not survive in a variable salinity regime.  Therefore, resistance has been assessed as ‘Medium’ and resilience as ‘Low’, then a sensitivity of ‘Medium’ is recorded at the benchmark level.  Giving the biotopes a sensitivity of ‘Medium’ to the pressure at the benchmark.

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Water flow (tidal current) changes (local) [Show more]

Water flow (tidal current) changes (local)

Benchmark. A change in peak mean spring bed flow velocity of between 0.1 m/s to 0.2 m/s for more than one year. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope occurs in weak to very weak tidal streams.  An increase in water flow above that of the pressure benchmark, for example weak to strong, is likely to remove (erode) fine particulates, leaving coarser substrata and making more hard substratum available for settlement by oysters and other members of the community, e.g. Ascidiella sp. and epifauna.  An increase in water flow rate could cause oysters to be swept away by strong tidal flow if the substratum to which they are attached is removed.  Therefore, a proportion of the oyster bed may be lost, depending on the nature of the substratum. 

Increased water flow can affect the ability of oysters to feed.  An increase in water flow could reduce the time oysters are able to feed.  Yet could improve the availability of suspended particles on which oysters feed.  The former is thought to affect the biotope more significantly whilst the latter the individual species.  With increased water flow rate the oyster filtration rate increases, up to a point where the oysters are unable to remove more particles from the passing water and thus individual species are likely to benefit from increased water flow rate.  

Reproductive success and successful recruitment to an oyster bed may also be affected by a change in water flow.  Recruitment is already known to be sporadic and dependent on the hydrographic regime and local environmental conditions but will be enhanced by the presence of adults and shell material (Cole, 1951).  An increase in water flow rate may interfere with settlement of spat and it is thought that growth rates of Ostrea edulis are faster in sheltered sites than exposed locations, although this is thought to be attributed to the seston volume rather than flow speed or food availability (Valero, 2006).  Oysters may also be swept away by strong tidal flow if the substratum to which they are attached is removed.

Sensitivity assessment.  A change in water flow at the benchmark of this pressure it is highly unlikely that the change will cause any effect on this biotope.  However an increase above the benchmark of this pressure could have a negative impact.  Both the resilience and resistance of this biotope are assessed as ‘High’, which results in the biotope being assessed as ‘Not sensitive’.

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Emergence regime changes [Show more]

Emergence regime changes

Benchmark.  1) A change in the time covered or not covered by the sea for a period of ≥1 year or 2) an increase in relative sea level or decrease in high water level for ≥1 year. Further detail

Evidence

Beds of the native oyster Ostrea edulis may occur low on the shore and are exposed for a proportion of the tidal cycle.  Ostrea edulis is known to be able to survive aerial exposure at low temperatures during storage and are known to be capable of anaerobic respiration (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960), which suggests that they can tolerate aerial exposure.  In addition, in the mariculture of oysters (native and introduced species) oyster trays are positioned in the low intertidal, and regularly exposed to the air.  Therefore, an increase in desiccation in this biotope, is unlikely to result in death of the oysters themselves at the level of the benchmark.  However, exposure to the air prevents feeding, and anaerobic respiration usually results in an oxygen debt, an energetic cost that the organism must make up on return to aerated water, resulting in reduced growth and reproductive capacity.

The associated epifauna may be more intolerant, such as ascidians (e.g. Ascidiella spp.) and Asterias rubens.  Burrowing infauna are likely to be protected from desiccation by their infaunal habit and species such as Lanice conchilega, Myxicola infundibulum and Chaetopterus variopedatus may be found at low water.  Mobile epifaunal species would probably move to deeper water while delicate hydroids and bryozoans may be damaged or killed by desiccation.

This biotope is subtidal so that an increase in emergence is unlikely to have an adverse effect on the community.  However, increased emergence may allow the oyster bed to spread further up the shore, although at a slow rate.  Therefore, the biotope may benefit from the factor.

Sensitivity assessment.  Oyster beds may resist an increase in desiccation at the benchmark level.  Both resistance and resilience are assessed as ‘High’, giving the biotope a ‘Not sensitive’ assessment at the level of the benchmark.

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Wave exposure changes (local) [Show more]

Wave exposure changes (local)

Benchmark. A change in near shore significant wave height of >3% but <5% for more than one year. Further detail

Evidence

SS.SMx.IMx.Ost is found in sheltered to extremely sheltered conditions.  This biotope is found from 0 – 20 m in depth.  The shallow wave action in shallow water results in oscillatory water flow, the magnitude of which is greatest in shallow water and attenuated with depth.  While the oysters' attachment is permanent, increased wave action may result in erosion of its substratum and the oysters with it.  Areas where sufficient shell debris has accumulated may be less vulnerable to this disturbance.  However, a proportion of the bed is likely to be displaced by an increase in wave action.  Similarly, infaunal species, burrowing polychaetes and epifauna are characteristic of wave sheltered conditions and may be lost, e.g. Ascidiella sp.  The biotope may be replaced by communities characteristic of stronger wave action and coarser sediments. 

Sensitivity assessment.  At the benchmark of this pressure it is highly unlikely that the change will cause any effect on this biotope.  However an increase above the benchmark of this pressure could have a negative impact.  Both the resilience and resistance of this biotope are assessed as ‘High’, which results in the biotope being classified as ‘Not sensitive’.

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Chemical Pressures

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Transition elements & organo-metal contamination [Show more]

Transition elements & organo-metal contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

The results of the Rapid Evidence Assessment on the effects of 'Transitional metal or organometal' contaminants on oyster species (Crassostrea spp., Ostrea spp., Saccostrea spp. and Magallana gigas). are summarized below. The full 'Oyster species evidence review' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Transitional metal or organometal' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Transitional metals. In adults and juveniles, 12% of the results reported ‘severe’ mortality and 33% reported ‘significant’ mortality but 43% reported sublethal effects.  However, ‘severe’ mortality was reported in 31% of the results from early life stages, and ‘significant’ mortality in 57% of the results.  There is considerable evidence to suggest that exposure to copper, cadmium, zinc, silver, mercury and lead could result in ‘severe’ or ‘significant’ mortality, although experimental designs and exposure concentrations vary.  Several other metals were only included in a few studies. Overall, all life stages were reported to experience mortality after exposure to transitional metals, with the exception of cobalt.  The evidence agrees with His et al. (2000) who ranked the toxicity of metals and organometals to bivalve larvae as follows: tributyltin >mercury >silver >copper >zinc >nickel >lead >cadmium.  Therefore, resistance to transitional metals exposure in adult, juvenile, and early life stages of oyster species is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.

Curiously, CCA (copper-chrome-arsenic) affected the swimming of Crassostrea gigas larvae swimming but did not result in mortality when used as an antifoulant mixture (Prael et al., 2001).  Similarly, copper-oxide paint was reported to have only sublethal effects on adult C. gigas (His et al., 1987).

Ostrea edulis was the least studied oyster species.  The adults and juveniles of Ostrea edulis were reported to experience ‘significant’ mortality after exposure to nickel, mercury, and chromium.  The early life stages of Ostrea edulis were only studied in one article that only examined the effects of mercury, which in turn resulted in ‘significant’ mortality.  Bryan (1984) reported a 48-hour LC50 for Hg of 1-3.3 ppb in Ostrea edulis larvae compared with a 48-hour LC50 for Hg of 4,200 ppb in adults.

Ostrea edulis was able to survive in the lower reaches of Restronguet Creek, one of the most heavy metal polluted estuaries in the world, where metals from mining wastes reached concentrations several orders of magnitude above normal (Bryan et al., 1987).  Bryan et al. (1987) noted that O. edulis in the creek were highly polluted, that is, specimens were reported to be 'green' since the 1880s, in 1927, and in specimens collected in 1980 (Bryan et al., 1987).  Ostrea edulis from the Falmouth estuary were shown to be able to detoxify metals (Cu and Zn) in amoebocytes.  Bryan et al. (1987) noted that Cu and Zn were accumulated in the tissues of Ostrea edulis, with estimates ranging from ca 1,000 to ca 16,500 µg/g dry weight.  Bryan et al. (1987) concluded that this detoxification mechanism allowed O. edulis to survive in the lower reaches of the creek.

Ostrea edulis is, therefore, resistant to high levels of Cu and Zn and is able to survive in the lower reaches of Restronguet Creek, where other species are excluded by the heavy metal pollution.  Larval stages may be less resistant, but larval recruitment must be high enough for a population of oysters to survive for ca 123 years in the lower reaches of Restronguet Creek and the Falmouth estuaries.  Bryan et al. (1987) do not clarify their abundance/density in the creek.  However, it appears that Ostrea edulis is capable of localized adaption to transitional metal contamination, in particular, from copper and zinc. Although the adult Ostrea edulis may be tolerant of heavy metal pollution the larval effects suggest that recruitment may be impaired resulting in a reduction in the population over time, and hence a reduction in the associated fauna.

Therefore, the resistance of Ostrea edulis to transitional metals is assessed as ‘Low’, with the possible exception of Cu and Zn and the understanding that long-term exposure could result in localised adaption.  Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’, albeit with ‘Low’ confidence. 

Little information on the tolerance of ascidians or sponges was found. However, polychaetes are thought to be relatively tolerant of heavy metal pollution, even though some heavy metals may suppress reproduction (Bryan, 1984). Similarly, Bryan (1984) suggested that adult gastropod molluscs were also relatively tolerant of heavy metal pollution. Therefore, most other characteristic species in this biotope may be relatively tolerant of heavy metal pollution.

Organometals. Overall, 12% of the results of exposure to organotins reported ‘severe’ mortality, 49% ‘significant’ mortality, 6% ‘some’, 8% no mortality and 24.5% sublethal effects (Table 4.1).  In adults and juveniles, ‘severe’ mortality was reported in 6% of results, ‘significant’ in 31% and sublethal in 43% of results. However, in early life stages, 11% of the results of exposure to organotins reported ‘severe’ mortality, but 66.7% ‘significant’ mortality, 16.7% no mortality and 5.5% sublethal effects.  The evidence suggests that early life stages are more sensitive than adults.  In the five studies that examined Ostrea edulis, organotin exposure was reported to result in ‘significant’ or some ‘mortality’.  Therefore, the resistance of oyster species to organotins is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’

Rees et al. (2001) suggested that TBT contamination may have locally reduced population sizes of Ostrea edulis. In Ostrea edulis, TBT has been reported to cause reduced growth of new spat at 20 ng/l, a 50% reduction in growth at 60 ng/l. Although older spat grew normally at 240 ng/l for 7 days, larval production in adults was prevented by exposure to 240 and 2,620 ng/l for 74 days (Thain & Waldock, 1986; Bryan & Gibbs, 1991). Adults bioaccumulate TBT. Thain & Waldock (1986) and Thain et al. (1986) noted that TBT retarded normal sex change (male to female) in Ostrea edulis.

TBT also has marked effects on other marine organisms. For example, TBT causes imposex in prosobranch gastropods, especially the neogastropods such as Nucella lapillus, Ocenebra erinacea and Urosalpinx cinerea resulting in markedly reduced reproductive capacity and population decline. Ascidian larval stages were reported to be intolerant of TBT (Mansueto et al., 1993 cited in Rees et al., 2001). Beaumont et al. (1989) investigated the effects of tri-butyl tin (TBT) on benthic organisms. At concentrations of 1-3 µg/l there was no significant effect on the abundance of Hediste diversicolor or Cirratulus cirratus (family Cirratulidae) after 9 weeks in a microcosm. However, no juvenile polychaetes were retrieved from the substratum and hence there is some evidence that TBT had an effect on the larval and/or juvenile stages of these polychaetes. No information concerning the polychaetes characteristic of this biotope was found. Surveys of the Crouch estuary suggested that benthic epifauna were recovering since a reduction in TBT contamination suggesting that populations of several epifaunal species, including Ascidiella sp., had previously been reduced (Rees et al., 1999; 2001).

While the loss of predatory neogastropods (which are particularly intolerant of TBT) may be of benefit to Ostrea edulis populations, TBT has been shown to reduce reproduction and the growth of spat. Rees et al. (1999; 2001) reported that the epifauna of the inner Crouch estuary had largely recovered within 5 years (1987-1992) after the ban on the use of TBT on small boats in 1987. Increases in the abundance of Ascidiella sp. and Ciona intestinalis were especially noted. Ostrea edulis numbers increased between 1987 -1992 with a further increase by 1997. However, they noted that the continued increase in Ostrea edulis numbers and the continued absence of neogastropods suggested that recovery was still incomplete at the population level.

Nanoparticulate metals. Short-term (2-6 hours) exposure of Crassostrea virginica to titanium dioxide (TiO2) did not result in negative effects. However, 48-hour exposure of C. virginica embryos to silver nanoparticles significantly impaired development (Ringwood et al., 2010). Therefore, the resistance of oyster species to TiO2 is assessed as ‘High’ but exposure to silver nanoparticulates may be ‘Low’.  Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of evidence.

Overall sensitivity assessment. The evidence suggests that oysters are highly sensitive to transitional metal (except cobalt) and organometal (organotin) exposure depending on the concentration and duration of exposure and the life stage of the oysters. The evidence on the effects of nanoparticulate metals is limited to two studies but reported larval sensitivity to nanoparticulate silver.  Therefore, the worst-case resistance of native oyster (Ostrea edulis) beds to transitional metals and organometals is assessed as 'Low'. Hence, resilience is assessed as 'Low' and sensitivity as 'High'. Ostrea spp. was the least studied species in the evidence review but as several studies provided direct evidence confidence in the assessment is 'Medium'. 

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Hydrocarbon & PAH contamination [Show more]

Hydrocarbon & PAH contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

The results of the Rapid Evidence Assessment on the effects of 'Hydrocarbons and PAH' contaminants on oyster species (Crassostrea spp., Ostrea spp., Saccostrea spp. and Magallana gigas). are summarized below. The full 'Oyster species evidence review' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Hydrocarbon' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Oil spills. Only two studies reported on the direct effect of oil spills on oyster beds.  Levings et al. (1994) reported that the Galeta oil spills resulted in a significant reduction in C. virginica beds along the mangrove fringe, which lasted at least five years.  Powers et al. (2017) reported a ‘severe’ reduction in the abundance of C. virginica in intertidal beds after the Deepwater Horizon spill.  However, any effect on subtidal beds was obscured by mass mortality caused by freshwater runoff.  Therefore, the evidence suggests that direct oiling of oyster beds could cause ‘severe’ or ‘significant’ mortality amongst the oysters.  Hence, resistance is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ for oysters as a group.  However, evidence of the direct effect of oiling on Ostrea edulis was not found.  In the UK, Ostrea edulis beds occur in the shallow subtidal (0-20 m) and rarely in shallows exposed at low tide. But in sheltered areas, oil is likely to persist, and reach the shallow sea bed adsorbed to particulates or in solution. Therefore, the resistance of Ostrea edulis beds is assessed as ‘Medium’ to represent the chance that the most shallow extent of the biotopes might be exposed to an oil spill that coincided with the lowest tides.  Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Medium’ and sensitivity to oil spills as ‘Medium’ but with ‘Low’ confidence. 

Petroleum hydrocarbons – oils and dispersed oils.  The effects of various petroleum hydrocarbons as oils (e.g. crude, fuel, and diesel) and dispersed oils (e.g. chemically enhanced water accommodated fractions, CEWAFs) were examined by 31 separate articles on adult, juveniles, early life stages and gametes of oyster species. There was considerable variation in the types of oil or oil and dispersant mixtures studied, experimental design and, hence, the results. For example, 3.6% of the results from the studies of the effects of complex hydrocarbons (crudes oils, WAF/WSF/HEWAF) on oysters reported ‘severe’ mortality, 47% reported ‘significant’ mortality, 4.8% ‘some’, 9.6% no mortality and 35% reported only sublethal effects.  However, if only early life stages are included, 5.4% report ‘severe’ mortality, but 65% report ‘significant’ mortality, 7% ‘some’, 14% no mortality and only 7% report only sublethal effects. The effects of dispersed oils (dispersant and oil mixtures) are similar. For example, 72% of the results of the effects of dispersed oils reported ‘severe’ or ‘significant’ mortality but 100% of the results from early life stages reported ‘severe’ or ‘significant’ mortality. However, only one article examined the effects of dispersed oil on adults and reported only sublethal effects. Similarly, only two articles examined the effects of oils on oysters, both of which reported sublethal effects.

His et al. (2000) also noted that oils, detergents, and their mixtures were usually toxic to the early life stages of bivalves at concentrations in the order of 1 ppm or higher.  His et al., 2000 also noted that refined oils were more toxic than crude oils but rarely at environmentally realistic concentrations. Oils and detergents also inhibited settlement in Crassostrea virginica while oil inhibited settlement in Ostrea edulis at 1-2 ppt (Renzoni, 1973b; Smith & Hackney, 1989; His et al., 2000).

Therefore, the resistance of the early life stages of oyster species to oils (WAF/WSF/HEWAFs) and dispersed oils is assessed as ‘None’.  Although limited evidence suggests that the adults may be resistant, we may assume that loss of larval stages would result in a decline in resident populations that are dependent on recruitment for their abundance (Bayne, 2017).  No evidence of the effects of oils and dispersed oils on Ostrea edulis was found.  Hence, the resistance of oyster beds is assessed as ‘Low’ to represent the resultant loss in annual recruitment and potential population decline.  Therefore, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Medium’ confidence due to the lack of evidence from adult populations.

Dispersants. The majority (72%) of the results of the effects of dispersants on oyster species reported ‘significant’ mortality, 5.5% ‘severe’ mortality, 5.5% no mortality and 16.7% reported only sublethal effects.  The proportion of ‘severe’ and ‘significant’ mortality results increase to 7.7% and 80.7% respectively in early life stages.  However, none of the results from adults and juveniles reported ‘severe’ mortality, but 66% reported ‘significant mortality and 33% reported sublethal effects.  Therefore, it appears that dispersants alone are more toxic to oyster species as adults, juveniles, or early life stages than complex hydrocarbons and dispersed oils.  This conclusion is consistent with the finding of Woelke (1972; cited in His et al., 2000).  Therefore, the resistance of oyster species to dispersants is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.  However, Ostrea edulis may be an exception as only ‘significant’ mortality was reported in this species.  Hence, the resistance of Ostrea edulis and its beds to dispersants is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.

Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The results of exposure of oyster species to PAHs were split evenly between ‘severe’ and sublethal effects, albeit based on only 12 articles.  However, early life stages were more sensitive, with 64% of the results reporting ‘severe’ mortality’, 18% ‘significant and only 9% either no mortality or sublethal effects.  PAH exposure was reported to result in reduced scope for growth in adults, reduced sperm motility and reduced fertilization rate and abnormal larval development (His et al., 1997; Jeong & Cho, 2005; Choy et al., 2007; Kim et al., 2007; Wessel et al., 2007; Nogueira et al., 2017; Xie et al., 2017b).  The toxicity of PAHs also increased in light (UV exposure) (Lyons et al., 2002).  Therefore, the resistance of oyster species to PAHs is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.  However, as no direct evidence of the effects of PAHs on Ostrea spp. was found, confidence is assessed as 'Low'. 

Nonylphenol.  Nice et al. (2000; 2003) examined the effect of nonylphenol on Crassostrea gigas larvae or gametogenesis (Nice, 2005).  Nonylphenol reduced sperm production, caused hermaphroditism in some specimens after 48-hour exposures, and had transgenerational effects in which offspring had reduced survival if one parent was exposed to nonylphenol during larval development.  However, 72-hour exposure of larvae to 1.0 mg/l nonyphenol resulted in 100% larval mortality.  Therefore, the resistance of oyster species to nonylphenol is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.

Dioxin. Cooper et al. (2009) investigated the effects of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) on the embryonic development of Crassostrea virginica.  They reported 97-99% mortality in larvae at 2-10 µg/l TCDD (‘severe’ mortality) but only sublethal effects on adults.  Cooper et al. (2009) suggested their results might explain the lack of self-sustaining populations of bivalves in estuaries contaminated by TCDD.  Therefore, the resistance of oyster species to TCDD is assessed as ‘None’ in early life stages but ‘High’ in adults.  However, if Cooper et al. (2009) suggestion is correct, and TCDD contamination might result in population decline, the resistance of oyster beds may be assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low confidence as the evidence is based on a single study.

Others. The results for ‘other’ petrochemicals are dominated by aromatic hydrocarbons and detailed in the ‘evidence summary spreadsheet’.  Exposure of Crassostrea virginica embryos for 48 hours to 25 mg/l 2,4-Dimethylphenol was reported to result in ‘severe’ mortality in one study.  Exposure to biphenyl was reported to result in sublethal effects in one study.  However, exposure to one or more of 19 aromatic petrochemicals (individually) was reported to result in significant mortality in five of the studies reviewed.  Therefore, the sensitivity of the early life stages of oyster species to 2,4-Dimethylphenol is probably ‘High’ (resistance is ‘None’ and ‘resilience ‘Very low’), albeit at high concentrations.  But oysters are probably ‘Not sensitive’ to biphenyl, albeit based on limited evidence.  Overall, the early life stages and hence populations of oyster species are probably of ‘High’ sensitivity (resistance and resilience are ‘Low’) to aromatic petrochemicals depending on the individual chemical, the exposure concentration, exposure duration and life stage exposed.  

Polychaetes, bivalves and amphipods are generally particularly affected by oil spills in infaunal habits, and echinoderms are also particularly intolerant of oil contamination (Suchanek, 1993).

Overall sensitivity.  The evidence suggests that oyster species, especially in their early life stages, are highly sensitive to a range of hydrocarbons and some PAHs. This conclusion agrees with the findings of His et al. (2000). Limited evidence suggests that the adults may be resistant to hydrocarbon contamination, but we may assume that loss of larval stages would result in a decline in resident populations that are dependent on recruitment for their abundance (Bayne, 2017). Therefore, the worst-case resistance of native oyster (Ostrea edulis) beds to hydrocarbon or PAH contamination is assessed as 'Low'. Beds may be protected from oil spills due to their depth depending on local conditions. Nevertheless, resilience is assessed as 'Low' and sensitivity as 'High'. However, Ostrea spp. was the least studied species in the evidence review so confidence in the assessment is 'Low'. 

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Synthetic compound contamination [Show more]

Synthetic compound contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

The results of the Rapid Evidence Assessment on the effects of 'Synthetic compound' contaminants on oyster species (Crassostrea spp., Ostrea spp., Saccostrea spp. and Magallana gigas). are summarized below. The full 'Oyster species evidence review' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'synthetic compound' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Pesticides/biocides. Adults and juveniles were more resistant to pesticide/biocide exposure than early life stages. For example, 5.8% of the results of exposure of adults and juveniles to pesticides/biocides reported ‘severe’ or ‘significant’ mortality compared to 88% that reported sublethal effects, whereas 89% reported ‘severe’ or ‘significant mortality after exposure of early life stages, compared to only 6% that reported sublethal effects.  Over 200 different pesticides/biocides, their metabolic or degradation products were catalogued, and divided amongst 22 different functional (e.g. herbicide, insecticide) or structural (e.g. organohalogen, organophosphate) groups. Therefore, it is not possible to discuss the sensitivity of each pesticide/biocide reviewed and the 'Oyster species evidence summary' should be referred to for details. 

Overall, there is considerable evidence to suggest that adults and juveniles are resistant to most pesticides, with the exception of some insecticides, organophosphates and organohalogens but that early life stages (e.g. larvae) are sensitive to a wide range of pesticides/biocides. Therefore, the resistance of the early life stages oyster species to pesticides/biocides is assessed as ‘None’. Hence, the resistance of oyster beds is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ on the assumption that loss of recruitment would lead to population decline.

Pharmaceuticals. ‘Severe’ mortality was reported in 16.6% of the results of exposure to pharmaceuticals, 53% reported ‘significant’, 2.8% ‘some’, 5.5% ‘no mortality, and the remaining 22% only reported sublethal effects.  However, the five articles that examined adult and juvenile oysters did not report any mortality (22% of results) or only sublethal effects (88% of results).  Conversely, the 11 articles that examined early life stages reported ‘severe’ mortality in 22% of the results, ‘significant’ in 70%, ‘some’ in 3.7%, ‘none’ in 3.7% and sublethal effects in 3.7% of the results. Overall, 28 separate pharmaceuticals were reported in the review but most of the chemicals were only tested in a single study (see ‘Oyster species evidence summary' spreadsheet).

The resistance of the early life stages in oyster species to pharmaceuticals is assessed as ‘None’.  However, the ‘worst-case’ resistance of adults and juveniles is probably ‘High’ (no mortality and/or sublethal effects).  Therefore, the resistance of oyster beds is assessed as ‘Low’ based on the assumption that loss of recruitment would lead to population decline.  Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’

Other synthetics. Overall, 13% of the results of exposure to ‘synthetics (other)’ reported ‘severe’ mortality, 59.4% reported ‘significant mortality, 4.3% ‘some’ mortality, 4.3% no mortality and 18.8% reported sublethal effects.  No mortality or only sublethal effects were reported for adults and juveniles.  However, the early life stages were less resistant to their effects.  For example, 17.6% of the results reported ‘severe’ mortality, 72.5% reported ‘significant’ mortality, 5.8% ‘some’ mortality, 1.9% reported no mortality and 1.9% reported sublethal effects.

Detergents and surfactants were the most toxic to larvae, which agrees with the finding of His et al. (2000).  The exposure of Ostrea edulis larvae to the detergents Kudos, Slix, Polyclens, Gamlen, Teepol, and Houghtosol halved the normal rate of larval development at concentrations ranging from 2.5-7.5 ppm (2.5-7.5 mg/l) (Smith, 1968).  Renzoni, (1973b; cited by His et al., 2000) also reported significant mortality in Ostrea edulis larvae exposed to tetrapropylene benzene sulphonate (with an LC50 of 2 mg/l). The remaining ‘Synthetic(other)’ chemicals were reported by only a few studies and varied in their sensitivity, although the effects of most types of chemicals would be assessed as ‘High’ sensitivity.

The resistance of the early life stages in oyster species to synthetic (others) is assessed as ‘None’.  However, the ‘worst-case’ resistance of adults and juveniles is probably ‘High’ (no mortality and/or sublethal effects).  Therefore, the resistance of oyster beds is assessed as ‘Low’ based on the assumption that loss of recruitment would lead to population decline.  Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were examined in only four studies (see above).  Exposure to either Aroclor 1016, 1254 or PCB 1254 did not result in mortality and/or only resulted in sublethal effects.  No studies on the effects of PCBs on oyster larvae were found.  Therefore, the resistance of oyster species to PCBs is assessed as ‘High’, resilience as ‘High’, and sensitivity as ‘Not sensitive’.

Flame retardants. Only two studies examined the effects of brominated flame retardants on oysters (Great Lakes Corporation, 1989; Xie et al., 2017b).  Sublethal effects (on shell deposition) were reported in immature oysters (Crassostrea sp.) but BDE-47 caused abnormal development of embryos and significant mortality in larvae.  Therefore, the resistance of early life stages to brominated flame retardants is probably ‘Low’ but immature oysters is ‘High’.  Hence, the resistance of oyster beds is assessed as ‘Low’ based on the assumption that loss of recruitment would lead to population decline.  Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.  However, confidence in the assessment is ‘Low’ due to the disagreement in effect between the limited number of studies. 

Phthalates. The effects of phthalates were only examined in embryos and larvae.  All three of the studies reported significant mortality and/or abnormal development in embryos and larvae exposed to the phthalates studied.  Therefore, the resistance of early life stages to phthalates is probably ‘Low’.  Hence, the resistance of oyster beds is assessed as ‘Low’ based on the assumption that loss of recruitment would lead to population decline.  Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.  However, confidence in the assessment is ‘Low’ due to the disagreement in effect between a limited number of studies.

Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were examined in two studies (Drottar & Krueger, 2000; OECD, 2002) neither of which specified the life stage of Crassostrea virginica examined.  Both studies reported sublethal effects at the concentrations tested.  The OECD (2002) suggested a 96-hour NOEC of 1.9 mg/l.  Therefore, resistance is assessed as ‘High’, resilience as ‘High’ and sensitivity as ‘Not sensitive’, albeit with ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited number of studies reviewed.

Overall sensitivity assessment. The effects of numerous (ca 200) pesticides/biocides, plus pharmaceuticals were examined in the literature reviewed, while PCBs, Flame retardants, Phthalates and PFAs were less studied. There was considerable variation between studies in experimental design as well as results. Nevertheless, the worst-case resistance of oyster species to 'synthetic compounds' is assessed as 'Low', especially due to the sensitivity of early life stages on the assumption that loss of recruitment would lead to population decline.  Therefore, the worst-case resistance of native oyster (Ostrea edulis) beds to 'synthetic compound' contamination is assessed as 'Low', resilience as 'Low' and sensitivity as 'High'. However, Ostrea spp. was the least studied species in the evidence review so confidence in the assessment is 'Low'. 

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Radionuclide contamination [Show more]

Radionuclide contamination

Benchmark. An increase in 10µGy/h above background levels. Further detail

Evidence

The effects of exposure to tritium were reported by one article (Nelson, 1971; not accessed).  Nelson (1971) reported mortality in Crassostrea gigas larvae after exposure to 0.000001 Ci/l to 0.01 Ci/l Tritium (Ci = Curie – a non-SI unit of radioactive decay) but did not specify the larval stage or the level of mortality observed. Another paper that examined the effects of radioactive isotopes of chromium, strontium, zinc and yttrium on oyster larvae (Nelson, 1968) could also not be accessed.  Therefore, resistance is assessed as ‘Low’ as a precaution but with ‘Low’ confidence because the level of mortality was not specified. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.

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Introduction of other substances [Show more]

Introduction of other substances

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

The results of the Rapid Evidence Assessment on the effects of 'other substance' contaminants on oyster species (Crassostrea spp., Ostrea spp., Saccostrea spp. and Magallana gigas). are summarized below. The full 'Oyster species evidence review' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'other substance' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Inorganic chemicals. Most of the studies examined chemicals used in chlorination as a form of disinfectant. Bellance & Bailey (1977) reported a bioassay completed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science that established an LC50 of 5 μg/L for Crassostrea virginica larvae exposed to chlorine for 48 hours in static testing.

Capuzzo (1979) investigated the effects of temperature on the toxicity of chlorine and chloramine to Crassostrea virginica in a flow-through system.  The oyster larvae were exposed to chlorine or chloramine for 30 minutes at either 20 or 25℃, after the 30-minute exposure the toxicant was removed from the solution and the temperature was reduced down to the acclimation temperature.  The mortality of the larvae was assessed 48 hours after exposure.  The temperature was shown to enhance the toxic effects of the chemicals.  The LC50 and LC100 values for exposure to chlorine at 20℃ were 120 and 1400 µg/l, respectively but at 25℃ the LC50 and LC100 values for chlorine were 80 and 860 µg/l, respectively.  The LC50 and LC100 values for exposure to chloramines at 20℃ were 10 and 480 µg/l, respectively but at 25℃ the LC50 and LC100 values for chloramine were <10 and 160 µg/l, respectively. Chien & Chou (1989) examined the effects of chlorine exposure on the development of Crassostrea gigas under various temperatures and salinities, at different stages of development.  Fertilized eggs at the first polar stage and four larval stages (blastula, trochophore, veliger, and D-larva) were exposed to combinations of five concentrations (0 to 2520 µg/l) of chlorine, at four temperatures (22, 25, 28℃) and three salinities (18, 26, 34 ppt) for one hour.  Chlorine exposure to all of the tested stages had lethal impacts on the larvae.  In general, the resistance to chlorine increased with salinity, with lower LC50s observed at lower salinities.  Larval sensitivity to chlorine generally increased with higher exposure temperatures. Crecelius (1979) examined the effects of ozonization of seawater on the production of bromate.  Crecelius (1979) reported that ozonization of seawater converted of all bromide to bromate within 60 mins.  Ozonization of sodium chloride solution did not result in significant oxidants while sodium bromide solution resulted in both bromide and bromate.  Nevertheless, they concluded that the levels of bromate produced by chlorination or ozonization of power plant cooling waters were not acutely toxic to Crassostrea gigas larvae, fish, shrimp, and clams by comparison with toxicity figures determined in their laboratory.  Crecelius (1979) reported that 1.0 mg/l bromate resulted in 90% mortality in Crassostrea virginica larvae and 30 mg/l bromate caused abnormal development in 50% of Crassostrea gigas larvae during the first 48-hour of larval development (48-hour EC50/LC50 of 30 mg/l bromate).  However, no experimental details were provided (Crecelius, 1979). 

Roberts et al. (1975) examined the toxicity of chlorine in estuarine water to a range of marine species, using both flow-through and static tank systems.  They examined oyster larvae and juveniles (Crassostrea virginica), Mercenaria mercenaria larvae, Acartia tonsa (copepod), Palaemonetes pugio and fish (Menidia menidia, Syngnathus fuscus, and Gobiosoma bosci). They noted that molluscan larvae and copepods were the most sensitive species with a 48-hour LC50 of less than 0.005 ppm.  Roberts & Gleeson (1978) exposed Crassostrea virginica larvae to bromine chloride (BrCl) during 48-hour exposure assays.  The concentration that caused 50% mortality (LC50) was calculated at 210 µg/l bromine chloride.  In addition, to the larvae tests, juvenile oysters were exposed to BrCl for 96 hours to assess the impacts on shell growth.  The 96-hour EC50s for the shell growth were 100 and 160 µg/l. Roosenburg et al. (1980) examined the effects of chlorine on two larval stages of Crassostrea virginica.  Straight-hinge veliger larvae were exposed to concentrations of 10, 50, 100 and 200 µg/l chlorine for 6, 12, 24 and 36 hours, and to 50, 100, 200 and 300 µg/l for 8, 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours.  Pediveliger larvae were exposed to 50, 100, 200 and 300 µg/l chlorine for 6, 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours.  Mortality increased with increasing concentration in both larval stages.  Straight hinge veliger larvae were more sensitive than pediveliger larvae with between 83-100% mortality at the highest tested concentration at 96 hours.  Pediveliger larvae had between 32.4-46.1% mortality under the same conditions.

Scott & Middaugh (1978) investigated the seasonal toxicity of chlorination on Crassostrea virginica.  Bioassays were conducted in the fall (45-day exposure), winter (75-day exposure) and spring (60-day exposure).  Adult oysters were collected, accumulated, and exposed to sodium hypochlorite at nominal concentrations of 5.6, 3.2, 1.8, and 1 mg/L.  During each of the seasonal bioassays survival, condition index, gonadal index, and faecal production were assessed.  Total (100%) mortality occurred in all of the treatments at the highest nominal concentration.  However, the winter assay had a delay in mortality with 100% mortality occurring on day 70, compared to day 22 for fall and day 32 for spring.  The condition index of the controls was higher than the exposed oysters.  Similarly, the gonadal index was significantly higher in the control oysters. Stewart et al. (1979) investigated the toxicity of by-products of oxidative biocides on oyster larvae.  Crassostrea virginica larvae were exposed to bromate, bromoform, and chloroform, at 0.05, 0.1, 1.0, and 10.0 mg/I for 48 hours.  Mortality was observed after the 48-hour exposure period, at all concentrations of the three substances larval mortality occurred.

All but one of the studies above examined the effect of chlorination, bromination, or ozonization of oyster larvae.  All the studies reported ‘severe’ or ‘significant’ larval mortality at the concentrations tested.  In addition, adult Crassostrea virginica experienced a reduction in condition due to exposure to chlorination and 100% mortality at 5.6 mg/l.  Therefore, resistance would be assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low, and sensitivity as ‘High’, especially in larvae.

Fluoride.  Cardwell et al. (1979) (see above) examined the effects of a large number of different chemicals on the larvae of Crassostrea gigas.  Fluoride was reported to result in a 48-hour EC50 (abnormal development) of 58 mg/l and a 48-hour LC50 (larval mortality) of >100 mg/l.  Therefore, resistance to fluoride exposure would be assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.  However, this assessment is based on a single study.

Phosphoric acid.  The effects of phosphoric acid on oyster larvae were reported by Daugherty (1951) and Kunigelis & Wilbur (1987).  Kunigelis & Wilbur (1987) could not be accessed and the level of mortality was not specified.  Daugherty (1951) reported 100% mortality in C. virginica after 28-hour exposure to 1,500 mg/l but the article could not be accessed for further detail.  .  Therefore, resistance would be assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low, and sensitivity as ‘High’, especially in larvae.  However, this assessment is based on a single study that used a high concentration (1,500 mg/l).  It might represent the effects immediately after and in close proximity to a spill and confidence in the assessment is ‘Low’.

Potassium chloride (KCl) was included in two studies.  Da Cruz et al. (2007) reported that the exposure of Crassostrea rhizophorae embryos to potassium (as KCl) for 24 hours resulted in abnormal larval development and a 24-hour LC15 of 25.13 mg/l and a 24-hour LC50 35.56 mg/l.  Nell & Holliday (1986) examined the use of KCl and CuCl2 to stimulate larval settlement in Saccostrea commercialis larvae, in static containers in the laboratory.  Settlement was stimulated by 8-12 mM KCl (160 - 210 µg/l) and no mortality was observed.  Therefore, low concentrations of KCl were used to induce larval settlement while high concentrations (mg/l) were reported to cause abnormal larval development.  Hence, resistance would be assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.  However, the assessment is based on a single study using high concentrations of KCl so the confidence is assessed as ‘Low’.

Caldwell et al. (1975) investigated the effects of hydrogen sulphide on the survival and development of Crassostrea gigas.  The tests were run over a four-day period, the longer the oysters were exposed to hydrogen sulphide the lower the concentration was to cause 50% mortality.  The LC50 at 24, 48, and 96 hours were 3,300, 2,600, and 1,400 µg/l, respectively.  Therefore, resistance to sulphide exposure is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.

Okubo & Okubo, 1962 (cited by His, 2000) reported a 48-hour EC50 (abnormal development) of 32-100 µg/l in Crassostrea gigas embryos after exposure to sodium cyanide.  Therefore, the resistance of the early life stages of C. gigas to sodium cyanide would be assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’. 

Natural products. Daugherty (1951) reported that exposure to ‘starch’ at a concentration of 3 g/l resulted in 100% mortality in Crassostrea virginica.  Unfortunately, Daugherty (1951) could not be accessed and it is unclear how the starch was administered or how the effect was caused so no sensitivity assessment is made. Similarly, Cardwell, 1979b (cited by His et al., 2000) reported that exposure of the fertilized eggs of Crassostrea gigas to tannic acid resulted in abnormal development and a 48-hour EC50 of >10 mg/l.  Unfortunately, Cardwell, 1979b (cited by His et al., 2000) could not be accessed and it is unclear how the tannic acid was administered or how the effect was caused so no sensitivity assessment is made.

Explosives. Goodfellow et al. (1983, 1983b) examined the lethal and sublethal effects of picric acid and picramic acid on oysters as they were potential contaminants from industrial effluents and the manufacture of explosives.  Goodfellow et al. (1983) investigated the acute toxicity of picric acid and picramic acid on Crassostrea virginica.  The 144-hour LC5Os for picric and picramic acid were 254.9 and 69.8 mg/l, respectively.  No growth EC50s and shell deposition EC5Os showed that both contaminants caused adverse effects at much lower concentrations than indicated by the LC50s.  For example, the 144-hour shell deposition EC50s were 27.9 mg/l for picric acid and 5.6 mg/l for picramic acid. Goodfellow et al. (1983b) investigated the effects of picric acid and picramic acid on the growth of Crassostrea virginica.  Exposure to 0.45 and 0.05 mg/l (450 and 50 µg/l) picric acid and 0.24 and 0.02 mg/ (240 and 20 µg/l) picramic acid showed significant inhibition of shell deposition during the 42 days of exposure.  In addition, discolouration of the nacre layer of the shell and body mass was observed after exposure to both contaminants by the end of the 42-day trial.  Exposure to picric or picramic acids in the water column was reported to be lethal to C. virginica.  Therefore, resistance is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low, and sensitivity as ‘High’.

Lightsticks. De Araujo et al. (2015) determined the chemical composition and the toxicity of lightsticks that were recently activated, compared to lightsticks one year after activation and to lightsticks collected on beaches.  The effect of lightstick content on embryos of Crassostrea rhizophorae after 24 hours of exposure was assessed at various concentrations (0.32, 0.56, 1, 1.76, and 2.24% WSF).  The value of the WSF-effective concentration (24-hour EC50) that caused abnormal development of larvae was 0.35% for new light sticks but, after one year of activation, the toxicity of the light stick was even higher at 0.65%.  Therefore, resistance would be assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.  However, this assessment is based on a single study.

Rubber. Tallec et al. (2022) investigated the chemical toxicity of different types of new and used rubber products (tires, crumb rubber granulates, aquaculture rubber bands) on the early life stages of the Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas.  Leachates were obtained from the products at 0.1, 1, and 10 g/L. Sperm and embryos were exposed to leachates at 0.1, 1, and 10g/l for one hour before being assessed for viability.  The effect on fertilization was assessed by combining gametes with the different concentrations of each of the leachates for 1.5 hours before assessing the fertilization yields.  The impacts on the development of larvae were assessed by exposing embryos to leachates at 0.1, 1, and 10 g/l for 36 hours.  Abnormal D- larvae were classed as those with morphological malformations or those which had developmental arrest during embryogenesis.  The viability of oyster sperm was not significantly affected by exposure to leachates from new tires, used tires, new crumb rubber granulates, used crumb rubber granulates, and used oyster-farming rubber bands at any of the concentrations (0.1, 1 and 10g/l) tested when compared with the control treatments.  However, significant reductions in the percentage of live spermatozoa were observed at the highest tested concentrated leachate (10 g/l) from new oyster-farming rubber bands.  The viability of oyster oocytes was not significantly affected by exposure to any of the leachates at any of the tested concentrations.  The fertilization yield was not significantly affected by exposure to leachates from new tires, used tires, new crumb rubber granulates, used crumb rubber granulates, or used oyster-farming rubber bands when compared with the control treatment.  However, significant reductions in fertilization yield were observed at the highest tested concentration of leachate (10 g/l) from new oyster-farming rubber bands.  Embryo-larvae development was significantly reduced by 53% by exposure to new-tire leachate at 10 g/l.  Embryo-larval development was completely inhibited at the highest tested leachate concentration (10 g/L) of new crumb rubber granulates, used crumb rubber granulates, and used oyster-farming rubber bands.  Embryo-larval development was completely inhibited at 1g/l of new oyster-farming rubber bands leachate.  Therefore, the resistance of embryos and larvae to rubber leachates would be assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Very low, and sensitivity as ‘High’. 

Overall sensitivity assessment for 'other substances'.  Most of the chemicals examined in the studies reviewed resulted in 'severe' or 'significant' mortality, especially in early life stages. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of native oyster (Ostrea edulis) beds to 'other substances' contamination is assessed as 'Low', resilience as 'Low' and sensitivity as 'High'. However, Ostrea spp. was not examined directly in the studies reviewed and the effects varied depending on the chemical examined so confidence in the assessment is 'Low'. 

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De-oxygenation [Show more]

De-oxygenation

Benchmark. Exposure to dissolved oxygen concentration of less than or equal to 2 mg/l for one week (a change from WFD poor status to bad status). Further detail

Evidence

Oysters are considered to be tolerant of periods of hypoxia due to their ability to survive out of water during transportation for long periods of time, and many weeks at low temperatures (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960).  However, the sustained oxygen depletion typical of areas with high organic loading would probably have much more severe effects (Wilding & Hughes, 2010).  Although Ostrea edulis may be relatively tolerant of low oxygen concentrations other species within the community may be more intolerant (Tyler-Walters, 2008).

Lenihan (1999) reported that Crassostrea virginica could withstand hypoxic conditions (< 2mg O2 /l ) for 7-10 days at 18 °C but last for several weeks at <5 °C.  However, Lenihan (1999) also suggested that many days (26) of hypoxia, contributed to the high rate of mortality observed at the base reefs at 6 m depth together with poor condition, parasitism and reduced food availability.  In addition, a prolonged period of hypoxia in the River Neuse (North Carolina) resulted in mass mortality of oysters (Lenihan, 1999).

Members of the characterizing species that occur in estuaries e.g. Ascidiella aspersa are probably tolerant of a degree of hypoxia and occasional anoxia. Similarly, most polychaetes are capable of a degree of anaerobic respiration (Diaz & Rosenberg, 1995).  However, periods of hypoxia and anoxia are likely to result in loss of some members of the infauna and epifauna within this biotope.

Sensitivity assessment.  Ostrea edulis is not affected by de-oxygenation at the level of the benchmark.  However, some of the associated species might be affected at the benchmark level.  For this reason the resistance and resilience are assessed as ‘High’, giving the biotope a ‘Not sensitive’ sensitivity.

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Nutrient enrichment [Show more]

Nutrient enrichment

Benchmark. Compliance with WFD criteria for good status. Further detail

Evidence

This pressure relates to increased levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and silicon in the marine environment compared to background concentrations.  The nutrient enrichment of a marine environment leads to organisms no longer being limited by the availability of certain nutrients.  The consequent changes in ecosystem functions can lead to the progression of eutrophic symptoms (Bricker et al., 2008), changes in species diversity and evenness (Johnston & Roberts, 2009) decreases in dissolved oxygen and uncharacteristic microalgae blooms (Bricker et al., 1999, 2008).

Johnston & Roberts (2009) undertook a review and meta-analysis of the effect of contaminants on species richness and evenness in the marine environment.  Of the 47 papers reviewed relating to nutrients as a contaminants, over 75% found that it had a negative impact on species diversity, <5% found increased diversity, and the remaining papers finding no detectable effect.  Due to the ‘remarkably consistent’ affect of marine pollutants on species diversity this finding relevant to this biotope (Johnston & Roberts, 2009).  It was found that any single pollutant reduced species richness by 30-50% within any of the marine habitats considered (Johnston & Roberts, 2009).  Throughout their investigation there were only a few examples where species richness was increased due to the anthropogenic introduction of a contaminant.  These examples were almost entirely from the introduction of nutrients, either from aquaculture or sewage outfalls (Johnston & Roberts, 2009).

Moderate nutrient enrichment, especially in the form of organic particulates and dissolved organic material, is likely to increase food availability for all the suspension feeders within the biotope.  However, long-term or high levels of organic enrichment may result in eutrophication and have indirect adverse effects, such as increased turbidity, increased suspended sediment, increased risk of deoxygenation and the risk of algal blooms.

Ostrea edulis has been reported to suffer mortality due to toxic algal blooms, e.g. blooms of Gonyaulax sp. and Gymnodinium sp. (Shumway, 1990).  The subsequent death of toxic and non-toxic algal blooms may result in large numbers of dead algal cells collecting on the sea bottom, resulting in local de-oxygenation as the algal decompose, especially in sheltered areas with little water movement where this biotope is found.  Ostrea edulis may be relatively tolerant of low oxygen concentrations other species within the community may be more intolerant.

Sensitivity assessment.  A slight increase in nutrients may enhance food supply to Ostrea edulis and increase growth rates in the species.  At the pressure benchmark there shouldn’t be a negative impact on the biotope.  Therefore the resistance and resilience have been assessed as ‘High’, resulting in an assessment of ‘Not Sensitive’.

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Organic enrichment [Show more]

Organic enrichment

Benchmark. A deposit of 100 gC/m2/yr. Further detail

Evidence

Organic enrichment leads to organisms no longer being limited by the availability of organic carbon.  The consequent changes in ecosystem function can lead to the progression of eutrophic symptoms (Bricker et al., 2008), changes in species diversity and evenness (Johnston & Roberts, 2009) and decreases in dissolved oxygen and uncharacteristic microalgae blooms (Bricker et al., 1999, 2008).  Indirect adverse effects associated with organic enrichment include increased turbidity, increased suspended sediment and the increased risk of deoxygenation.  

Nutrient enrichment of the water column is a potential impact arising from finfish aquaculture which can potentially lead to eutrophication and the alteration of the species composition of plankton with possible proliferation of potentially toxic or nuisance species (OSPAR, 2009b).  However, the current consensus is that enrichment by salmon farm nutrients is generally too little, relative to natural levels, to have such an effect (SAMS and Napier University 2002, cited in Wilding & Hughes, 2010).

Johnston & Roberts (2009) undertook a review and meta-analysis of the effect of contaminants on species richness and evenness in the marine environment.  Of the 49 papers reviewed relating to sewage as a contaminant, over 70% found that it had a negative impact on species diversity, <5% found increased diversity, and the remaining papers finding no detectable effect.  Due to the ‘remarkably consistent’ effect of marine pollutants on species diversity this finding relevant to this biotope (Johnston & Roberts, 2009).   It was found that any single pollutant reduced species richness by 30-50% within any of the marine habitats considered (Johnston & Roberts, 2009).  Throughout their investigation there were only a few examples where species richness was increased due to the anthropogenic introduction of a contaminant.  These examples were almost entirely from the introduction of nutrients, either from aquaculture or sewage outfalls.

Sensitivity assessment.  Little empirical evidence was found to support an assessment of this biotope at this benchmark.  The lack of direct evidence for Ostrea edulis has resulted in this pressure being assessed as ‘No evidence’.

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Physical Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Physical loss (to land or freshwater habitat) [Show more]

Physical loss (to land or freshwater habitat)

Benchmark. A permanent loss of existing saline habitat within the site. Further detail

Evidence

All marine habitats and benthic species are considered to have a resistance of ‘None’ to this pressure and to be unable to recover from a permanent loss of habitat (resilience is ‘Very Low’).  Sensitivity within the direct spatial footprint of this pressure is, therefore ‘High’.  Although no specific evidence is described confidence in this assessment is ‘High’, due to the incontrovertible nature of this pressure.

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Physical change (to another seabed type) [Show more]

Physical change (to another seabed type)

Benchmark. Permanent change from sedimentary or soft rock substrata to hard rock or artificial substrata or vice-versa. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope occurs on sandy mud with some shells and occasionally gravel.  If there were a change from this substratum type then the physical conditions required for this biotope would no longer be present.  Therefore a change to rock or artificial substrata would cause the biotope to be lost.  Artificial hard substratum may also differ in character from natural hard substratum, so that replacement of natural surfaces with artificial may lead to changes in the biotope through changes in species composition, richness and diversity (Green et al., 2012; Firth et al., 2014) or the presence of non-native species (Bulleri & Airoldi, 2005).

Sensitivity assessment.  The biotope has a resistance of ‘None’, a resilience of ‘Very low’, and consequently a sensitivity of ‘High’.

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Physical change (to another sediment type) [Show more]

Physical change (to another sediment type)

Benchmark. Permanent change in one Folk class (based on UK SeaMap simplified classification). Further detail

Evidence

Sensitivity assessment.  Ostrea edulis occur in a range of habitat types and hence are not considered sensitive to an increased sediment coarse faction.  Resistance and resilience are therefore assessed as ‘High’ resulting in this biotope being considered ‘Not sensitive’ at the pressure benchmark.

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Habitat structure changes - removal of substratum (extraction) [Show more]

Habitat structure changes - removal of substratum (extraction)

Benchmark. The extraction of substratum to 30 cm (where substratum includes sediments and soft rock but excludes hard bedrock). Further detail

Evidence

Ostrea edulis cements its lower valve permanently to solid pieces of substratum, such as pebbles, cobbles, boulders etc.  The removal of this layer of the substratum would lead to the loss of; the biogenic layer created by oysters and its biological community, the oyster cultch (which will remove an important chemical cue used by larvae when settling), and the substrate which provides a point of attachment for larvae. 

Sensitivity assessment.  The resistance to the removal of the substratum is ‘None’.  The resilience of the biotope to this pressure depends on what substratum lies 30 cm below the top layer.  If the substratum is the same as that which was removed, resilience is going to be ‘Very low’.  If the underlying substrate is not suitable for the recovery of this biotope i.e. bedrock, then the biotope will not be able to return at all.

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Abrasion / disturbance of the surface of the substratum or seabed [Show more]

Abrasion / disturbance of the surface of the substratum or seabed

Benchmark. Damage to surface features (e.g. species and physical structures within the habitat). Further detail

Evidence

Abrasion may cause damage to the shell of Ostrea edulis, particularly to the growing edge.  Regeneration and repair abilities of the oyster are quite good.  Power washing of cultivated oysters routinely causes chips to the edge of the shell increasing the risk of desiccation.  This damage is soon repaired by the mantle.  Oysters were often harvested by dredging in the past, which their shells survived relatively intact.  On mixed sediments, the dredge may remove the underlying sediment, and cobbles and shell material with effects similar to substratum loss above.

In a review of anthropogenic threats to restored Ostrea edulis broodstock areas, Woolmer et al. (2011) reported that, in general, fishing mortality arising from commercial fisheries (for oysters and other mobile gear fisheries) is a key pressure on native oyster populations and habitats.  Impacts include: stock removal, disturbance of spat (juvenile oysters) and habitat disturbances (to oyster banks and reefs).  More specifically Woolmer et al. (2011) stated that dredging over oyster beds removes both cultch material and target oysters.  Over time, with sufficient effort, the net effect is a flattening of the bank and the creation of a flatter bed which is more susceptible to siltation and hypoxia in some water bodies (Woolmer et al., 2011 and references therein).  However, they also stated that although dredges have the negative effects stated above, the use of dredges on managed Ostrea edulis beds in some areas is often seen as necessary if siltation and smothering by algae and Crepidula fornicata are to be controlled.

Polychaetes and other segmented worms were reported to be badly affected by oyster dredging while any bivalves were displaced (Gubbay & Knapman, 1999).  In addition, the epifauna associated with horse mussel beds (Modiolus modiolus) was found to be particularly sensitive to abrasion due to scallop dredging (see A5.621; Service & Magorrian, 1997).  Therefore Ostrea edulis and the other characterizing species are probably sensitive to physical disturbance at the benchmark level.

Sensitivity assessment.  The characterizing species, Ostrea edulis, is somewhat resistant to some abrasion and is able to recover from some damage to shells e.g. chipping caused by pressure washers.  However, damage caused to oyster beds and their habitats by commercial fishing is considered to be of importance to levels of mortality and health of oyster beds.  Resistance has been assessed as ‘Low’, the resilience is assessed as ‘Low’.  This gives the biotope a sensitivity of ‘High’.

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Low
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High
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Penetration or disturbance of the substratum subsurface [Show more]

Penetration or disturbance of the substratum subsurface

Benchmark. Damage to sub-surface features (e.g. species and physical structures within the habitat). Further detail

Evidence

In general, fishing activities that penetrate the substratum to a greater extent (e.g. beam trawls, scallop dredges and demersel trawls) will potentially damage these habitats to a greater degree than fishing activities using lighter gear (e.g. light demersel trawls and seines) (Hall et al., 2008).  One of the major reasons for the decline of the oyster population at Chesapeake Bay was mechanical destruction (Rothschild et al., 1994).

Sensitivity assessment.  The effect of sub-surface disturbance will be to displace, damage and remove individuals.  Shallow disturbance is considered to remove between 25-75% of the population so that resistance is assessed as ‘Low’.  Resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity is therefore considered to be ‘High’.

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Low
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High
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Changes in suspended solids (water clarity) [Show more]

Changes in suspended solids (water clarity)

Benchmark. A change in one rank on the WFD (Water Framework Directive) scale e.g. from clear to intermediate for one year. Further detail

Evidence

A decrease in turbidity and hence increased light penetration may result in increased phytoplankton production and hence increased food availability for suspension feeders, including Ostrea edulis.  Therefore, reduced turbidity may be beneficial.  However, increased fouling by red algae may result and compete with juveniles and settling spat for space.  In areas of high suspended sediment, a decrease may result in improved condition and recruitment due to a reduction in the clogging of filtration apparatus of suspension feeders and an increase in the relative proportion of organic particulates.  However, a decrease in suspended sediments in some areas may reduce food availability resulting in lower growth or reduced energy for reproduction (Tyler-Walters, 2008).

In a field experiment in Canada, the summer growth of Ostrea edulis, on coarse sandy substrata, was found to be enhanced at low levels of sediment resuspension and inhibited as sediment deposition increased (Grant et al., 1990, summarised in Ray et al., 2005).  In a review of the biological effects of dredging operations, Ray et al. (2005) stated that sediment chlorophyll in suspension at low levels may act as a food supplement, enhancing growth, but at higher concentrations may dilute planktonic food resources and suppress food ingestion (Jackson & Wilding, 2009, references therein).

Oysters respond to an increase in suspended sediment by increasing pseudofaeces production with occasional rapid closure of their valves to expel accumulated silt (Yonge, 1960) both of which exert an energetic cost. Korringa (1952) reported that an increase in suspended sediment decreased the filtration rate in oysters.  This study is supported by Grant et al. (1990) who found declining clearance rates in Ostrea edulis in response to an increase in suspended particulate matter.  Suspended sediment was also shown to reduce the growth rate of adult Ostrea edulis and to result in shell thickening (Moore, 1977).  Reduced growth probably results from increased shell deposition and an inability to feed efficiently.  Hutchinson & Hawkins (1992) reported that filtration was completely inhibited by 10 mg/l of particulate organic matter and significantly reduced by 5 mg/l.  Ostrea edulis larvae survived 7 days exposure to up to 4 g/l silt with little mortality.  However, their growth was impaired at 0.75 g/l or above (Moore, 1977). Yonge (1960) and Korringa (1952) considered Ostrea edulis to be intolerant of turbid (silt laden) environments.  Moore (1977) reported that variation in suspended sediment and silted substratum and resultant scour was an important factor restricting oyster spat fall, i.e. recruitment.  Therefore, an increase in suspended sediment may have longer term effects of the population by inhibiting recruitment, especially if the increase coincided with the peak settlement period in summer.  

The other suspension feeders characteristic of this biotope are probably tolerant of a degree of suspended sediment but an increase, especially of fine silt, would probably interfere with feeding mechanisms, resulting in reduced feeding and a loss of energy through mechanisms to shed or remove silt.  

Sensitivity assessment.  A short-term increase in sedimentation is unlikely to have an impact on this biotope and its characterizing species.  Ostrea edulis has a comping mechanism to remove increased levels of silt from within the mantle.  This behaviour is energetically expensive, and may cause a decrease in growth rate of the organism, but is unlikely to cause mortality.  For these reasons resistance and resilience are assessed as ‘High’ given a sensitivity score of ‘Not sensitive’.

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High
High
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Not sensitive
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Smothering and siltation rate changes (light) [Show more]

Smothering and siltation rate changes (light)

Benchmark. ‘Light’ deposition of up to 5 cm of fine material added to the seabed in a single discrete event. Further detail

Evidence

Ostrea edulis is an active suspension feeder on phytoplankton, bacteria, particulate detritus and dissolved organic matter (DOM) (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960).  The addition of fine sediment, pseudofaeces or fish food would potentially increase food availability for oysters.  But even small increases in sediment deposition have been found to reduce growth rates in Ostrea edulis (Grant et al., 1990, cited in Jackson & Wilding, 2009).  Smothering by 5 cm of sediment would prevent the flow of water through the oyster that permits respiration, feeding and removal of waste.  Wilding & Hughes (2010) stated that Ostrea edulis would be unable to survive burial by rapid or continuous deposition of sediment.  Ostrea edulis is permanently fixed to the substratum and would not be able to burrow up through the deposited material.  Ostrea edulis can respire anaerobically, and is known to be able to survive for many weeks (Yonge, 1960) or 24 days (Korringa, 1952) out of water at low temperatures used for storage after collection.  However, it is likely that at normal environmental temperatures, the population would be killed by smothering.  Yonge (1960) reported death of populations of Ostrea edulis due to smothering of oyster beds by sediment and debris from the land as a result of flooding (Yonge, 1960).  In a review of anthropogenic threats to restored Ostrea edulis broodstock areas, Woolmer et al. (2011) reported that the deposition of faeces and waste food from finfish aquaculture developments or deposition from shellfish culture developments (particularly mussel bottom culture) may present a smothering risk to Ostrea edulis beds directly below or close by.

Oyster larvae require clean hard surfaces on which to settle (Laing et al., 2005; UMBS, 2007 both cited in Woolmer et al., 2011).  A layer of settled material of 1-2 mm in depth was reported to prevent satisfactory oyster sets, i.e. settlement, reducing effective recruitment (Galtsoff, 1964 – Crassostrea virginica, Wilbur, 1971, cited in Jackson & Wilding, 2009).

Smothering will probably also kill the sessile, fixed members of the epifauna, unless large enough to protrude above the deposited layer (e.g. Ascidiella sp.).  However, burrowing infauna will probably burrow to the surface.  Death of the oyster bed will exacerbate changes in the sediment surface and nutrient levels in the long-term, so that the characterizing species may be replaced by others such as the non-native species Crepidula fornicata.

Sensitivity assessment.  Ostrea edulis would be unable to survive this pressure at the benchmark.  As filter feeders that are permanently attached to the substrate they would be unable to borrow up to the surface to enable basic life functions to occur.  The low tidal streams within this biotope, in addition to the extremely sheltered to sheltered wave exposure mean that there would be low levels of sediment resuspension.  Resulting in the sediment remaining within the biotope for a longer period of time, consolidating the negative effect of the pressure.  Resistance to the pressure is ‘None’, resilience is ‘Very low’ and the biotope sensitivity at this pressure benchmark is given as ‘High’.

None
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Very Low
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High
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Smothering and siltation rate changes (heavy) [Show more]

Smothering and siltation rate changes (heavy)

Benchmark. ‘Heavy’ deposition of up to 30 cm of fine material added to the seabed in a single discrete event. Further detail

Evidence

No direct evidence was found to assess this pressure at the benchmark.  A deposit at the pressure benchmark would cover all species with a thick layer of fine materials.  Species associated with this biotope would not be able to escape and would likely suffer mortality (see evidence for light siltation).  Ostrea edulis would be unable to survive this pressure at the benchmark.  As filter feeders that are permanently attached to the substratum they would be unable to borrow up to the surface to enable basic life functions to occur.  The low tidal streams within this biotope, in addition to the extremely sheltered to sheltered wave exposure mean that there would be low levels of sediment resuspension.  This could possibly exacerbate the negative impacts of this pressure.  The same assessment has been used for this pressure as in the light pressure benchmark.  Resistance to the pressure is ‘None’, resilience is ‘Very low’ and sensitivity is given as ‘High’.

None
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High
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Litter [Show more]

Litter

Benchmark. The introduction of man-made objects able to cause physical harm (surface, water column, seafloor or strandline). Further detail

Evidence

Not assessed.

Not Assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Electromagnetic changes [Show more]

Electromagnetic changes

Benchmark. A local electric field of 1 V/m or a local magnetic field of 10 µT. Further detail

Evidence

No evidence.

No evidence (NEv)
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Not relevant (NR)
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No evidence (NEv)
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Underwater noise changes [Show more]

Underwater noise changes

Benchmark. MSFD indicator levels (SEL or peak SPL) exceeded for 20% of days in a calendar year. Further detail

Evidence

Species characterizing this habitat do not have hearing perception but vibrations may cause an impact, however no studies exist to support an assessment.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Introduction of light or shading [Show more]

Introduction of light or shading

Benchmark. A change in incident light via anthropogenic means. Further detail

Evidence

The native oyster has no dependence on light availability, so changes in turbidity and thus light reaching the seabed, for example, would have no direct effect on this feature.  However, prevention of light reaching the seabed may affect Ostrea edulis indirectly through changes in phytoplankton abundance and primary production.  Red algae found in the biotope Ostrea edulis beds on shallow sublittoral muddy mixed sediments will be affected by a reduction in primary production.  Red algae are probably shade tolerant but may be lost from deeper examples of this biotope (Tyler-Walters, 2008).

Sensitivity assessment.  Resistance and resilience are assessed as ‘High’, resulting in an assessment of ‘Not sensitive’.

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High
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Not sensitive
Medium
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Barrier to species movement [Show more]

Barrier to species movement

Benchmark. A permanent or temporary barrier to species movement over ≥50% of water body width or a 10% change in tidal excursion. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant – this pressure is considered applicable to mobile species, e.g. fish and marine mammals rather than seabed habitats. Physical and hydrographic barriers may limit propagule dispersal.  But propagule dispersal is not considered under the pressure definition and benchmark.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Death or injury by collision [Show more]

Death or injury by collision

Benchmark. Injury or mortality from collisions of biota with both static or moving structures due to 0.1% of tidal volume on an average tide, passing through an artificial structure. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant to seabed habitats.

NB. Collision by grounding vessels is addressed under ‘surface abrasion’.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Visual disturbance [Show more]

Visual disturbance

Benchmark. The daily duration of transient visual cues exceeds 10% of the period of site occupancy by the feature. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant. 

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Biological Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Genetic modification & translocation of indigenous species [Show more]

Genetic modification & translocation of indigenous species

Benchmark. Translocation of indigenous species or the introduction of genetically modified or genetically different populations of indigenous species that may result in changes in the genetic structure of local populations, hybridization, or change in community structure. Further detail

Evidence

Organisms are frequently transplanted from one location to another in marine aquaculture and these transplanted species may pose potentially serious impacts to native populations through interbreeding and thus alteration of the gene pool.

The Pacific oyster (Magallana gigas) have been intentionally imported from Japan into Ireland because they are larger and faster growing than the native oyster (Ostrea edulis).  Pacific oysters cannot hybridize with the native oyster but indirect effects may occur through alterations in gene frequencies as a result of ecological interactions with the Pacific oyster (Heffernan 1999).

Sensitivity assessment.  Very little information is available on the effect of this pressure on the characterizing species Ostrea edulis.  Ostrea edulis may be translocated, resistance to genetic impacts is assessed as ‘None’ and recovery as ‘Low’ due to potential for permanent effects.  Sensitivty is therefore categorised as ‘High’.

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Very Low
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High
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Introduction or spread of invasive non-indigenous species [Show more]

Introduction or spread of invasive non-indigenous species

Benchmark. The introduction of one or more invasive non-indigenous species (INIS). Further detail

Evidence

The American slipper limpet Crepidula fornicata was introduced to the UK and Europe in the 1870s from the Atlantic coasts of North America with imports of the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica. It was recorded in Liverpool in 1870 and the Essex coast in 1887-1890. It has spread through expansion and introductions along the full extent of the English Channel and into the European mainland, including native and cultured oyster beds (Blanchard, 1997, 2009; Bohn et al., 2012, 2013a, 2013b, 2015; De Montaudouin et al., 1999, 2018; Hinz et al., 2011; Helmer et al., 2019; McNeill et al., 2010; Powell-Jennings & Calloway, 2018; Preston et al., 2020; Stiger-Pouvreau & Thouzeau, 2015). It occurs in large numbers in most of the oyster producing areas of England and Wales (Blanchard, 1997; Thieltges, 2005; Powell-Jennings & Calloway, 2018). 

High densities of Crepidula fornicata cause ecological impacts on sedimentary habitats. The species can smother the seabed in shallow bays, changing and modifying the habitat structure (Blanchard, 1997, 2009; Helmer et al., 2019; Tillin et al., 2020). At high densities, the species physically smothers the sediment, and the resultant build-up of silt, pseudofaeces, and faeces is deposited and trapped within the bed (Tillin et al. 2020, Fitzgerald, 2007, Blanchard, 2009, Stiger-Pouvreau & Thouzeau, 2015). The biodeposition rates of Crepidula are extremely high and once deposited, form an anoxic mud, making the environment suitable for other species, including most infauna (Blanchard, 2009; Stiger-Pouvreau & Thouzea, 2015). The resultant modification of the substratum can render it unsuitable for native oysters (Blanchard, 1997, 2009).

For example, the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel supports shellfisheries for the Pacific oyster (Magallana gigas), flat oyster (Ostrea edulis) and blue mussels (Mytilus edulis). The flat oyster fishery was impacted by Crepidula which spread rapidly into the oyster beds and became attached to the oyster shells (Blanchard, 2009). After forty years, Crepidula occupied most of the subtidal area of the Bay, its spread facilitated by oyster farming and shellfish dredging (Blanchard, 2009). However, it occurred at lower densities and co-existed with other shellfish in Arcachon Bay (De Montaudouin et al. 1999, 2018) and Bourgnerf Bay (Decottignies, 2006, 2007 cited in Blanchard, 2009). 

Similarly, Helmer et al. (2019) reported that Ostrea edulis numbers in the Chichester Harbour had decreased by 96% in a 19-year period since 1998, while Crepidula numbers had increased by 441% in the same period. Low densities of Ostrea edulis and high densities of Crepidula were also reported in Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours, which are within one of the few remaining oyster fisheries in the UK. Helmer et al. (2019) suggested that the lack of recovery of Ostrea edulis populations was probably due to a lack of habitat heterogeneity and suitable settlement substratum, together with ongoing fishing activity and disease.  Helmer et al. (2019) suggested that the native oyster population in the Solent was "on the brink of ecological collapse" without active management to mitigate the dominance of Crepidula.  Preston et al. (2020) reported that Crepidula larvae probably competed with Ostrea larvae for food in the plankton, with resultant negative effects on recruitment, and that the Solent is probably substratum-limited for Ostrea due to larval preference for native oyster shell and mixed sediment rather than the muddy sediments created by dense populations of Crepidula. Preston et al. (2020) also noted that the biogenic habitat created by Crepidula was less diverse and species-rich than that provided by native oysters. 

Crepidula fornicata has been implicated in the decline of Ostrea edulis beds across the North Sea. However, Hayer et al. (2019) concluded that the decline of native oyster beds was almost complete before Crepidula began to invade the North Sea. The decline in native oyster beds by the 1940s was most probably due to overfishing combined with reductions in water quality, cold winters (hence poor spat fall), flooding, the introduction of non-native competitors and pests, and outbreaks of disease (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Edwards, 1997). The population dynamics of oyster populations are dependent on positive feedback between adult abundance and recruitment via the provision of reef habitat for the settlement of larvae (e.g. adult shell), and the growth of the height of the reef about the sediment and the supply of food (facilitated by current flow) (Bayne, 2017). Nevertheless, the presence of high densities of Crepidula, modification of the substratum, competition for food as larvae, and exclusion from suitable settlement substratum, probably prevents the recovery of Ostrea edulis beds (Blanchard, 2009; Helmer et al., 2018; Preston et al., 2020). 

The American oyster drill Urosalpinx cinerea was first recorded in 1927 and occurs in the south-east and south-west of the UK.  Urosalpinx cinerea is a major predator of oyster spat and was considered to be a major pest on native and cultured oyster beds (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960) and contributed to the decline in oyster populations in the first half of the 20th century. For example, in the Oosterschelde, Korringa (1952) reported 90% mortality in oyster spat by their first winter, with up to 75% being taken by Urosalpinx cinerea, while Hancock (1955) noted that 73% of spat settling in the summer of 1953 died by December, 55 -58% being taken by Urosalpinx cinerea

Didemnum vexillum (leathery sea squirt) was first recorded in the UK in Holyhead Marina in 2008 (Laing et al., 2011).  This species can colonize a range of substrata, including that which is characteristic of this biotope.  There are very few studies of the effects of Didemnum vexilum on biotopes, and there are none considering this biotope.  However, a biotope smothered by this species would likely experience a reduction in biodiversity and potentially a change in the biotope (Laing et al., 2011).

Sensitivity assessment.  Several INIS could potentially impact oyster beds. In particular, Crepidula is reported to damage oyster culture and is thought to prevent oyster bed recovery and compete for habitat, while oyster drills affect oyster culture and native oyster beds. Where abundant, Crepidula fornicata is likely to change the entire biotope, to produce a Crepidula fornicata dominated biotope such as SS.SMx.SMxVS.CreMed or SS.SMx.IMx.CreAsAn (JNCC, 2015, 2022). Therefore, resistance is assessed as ‘Low’. Resilience is assessed as 'Very low' because the successful removal of an INIS is extremely rare.  Hence, sensitivity is assessed as 'High'. Due to the constant risk of new invasive species, the literature on this pressure should be revisited.

Low
Medium
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Very Low
High
High
High
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High
Medium
Medium
Medium
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Introduction of microbial pathogens [Show more]

Introduction of microbial pathogens

Benchmark. The introduction of relevant microbial pathogens or metazoan disease vectors to an area where they are currently not present (e.g. Martelia refringens and Bonamia, Avian influenza virus, viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia virus). Further detail

Evidence

Numerous diseases and parasites have been identified in oysters, partly due to their commercial importance and partly because of incidences of disease related mass mortalities in oyster beds.  Diseases in oysters and other commercial bivalve species may be caused by bacteria (especially in larvae), protists, fungi, coccidians, gregarines, trematodes, while annelids and copepods may be parasite.  The reader should refer to reviews by Lauckner (1983) and Bower & McGladdery (1996) for further detail.  The following species have caused mortalities in Ostrea edulis populations in the UK. 

Polydora ciliata burrows into the shell, weakening the shell and increasing the oysters vulnerability to predation and physical damage, whereas Polydora hoplura causes shell blisters.  Boring sponges of the genus Cliona may bore the shell of oysters caused shell weakening, especially in older specimens.  The flagellate protozoan Heximata sp. resulted in mass mortalities on natural and cultivated beds of oysters in Europe in the 1920-21, from which many population did not recover (Yonge, 1960).  The parasitic protozoan Bonamia ostreae caused mass mortalities in France, the Netherlands, Spain, Iceland and England after its accidental introduction in 1980's resulting a further reduction in oyster production (Edwards, 1997).  Another protozoan parasite Marteilia refingens, present in France has not yet affected stocks in the British Isles, and the copepod parasite, Mytilicola intestinalis, of mussels, has also been found to infect Ostrea edulis potentially causing considerable loss of condition, although in most infections there is no evidence of pathology.

The transportation of Pacific oysters from Japan to the west coast of North America is thought to have resulted in the introduction of the bacterium Nocardia crassostreae leading to nocardiosis (bacterial infection that can invade every tissue) in Pacific oysters (Magallana gigas) and Ostrea edulis (Forrest et al., 2009; taken from Tillin et al., 2013).

The protistan parasite Bonamia ostrea is a serious threat to Ostrea edulis in the UK (Laing et al., 2005, cited in Woomer et al. 2011).  Bonamia ostrea has caused mortality of Ostrea edulis throughout northern Europe, with disease events reducing populations by 80% or higher Heffernan (1999).  Disease transmission can occur from oyster to oyster.  However, Bonamia ostrea is also found in other marine invertebrates, including zooplankton (indicating the possibility of interspecies transmission; Lynch et al., 2007 cited in Woolmer et al., 2011).  Ostrea edulis larvae may also be vectors for disease between populations; Arzul et al., 2011 cited in Woolmer et al., 2011).

Sensitivity assessment.  Although the impact of individual species of microbial pathogen on Ostrea edulis varies, pathogens known to affect this species in the UK can cause significant mortality.  Bonamia ostrea is known to cause in excess of 80 % mortality of oyster beds within the UK.  For this reason both the resistance and resilience have been assessed as ‘Low’.  Giving the biotope a sensitivity of ‘High’.

Low
High
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Low
High
High
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High
High
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Removal of target species [Show more]

Removal of target species

Benchmark. Removal of species targeted by fishery, shellfishery or harvesting at a commercial or recreational scale. Further detail

Evidence

Ostrea edulis is long lived, has notably unreliable reproduction, and low levels of recruitment, which makes it vulnerable to over fishing (Orton, 1927; Spärck, 1951; Laing et al., 1951; taken from Gravestock et al., 2014).  British native oyster beds were exploited in Roman times.  The introduction of oyster dredging in the mid 19th century developed the oyster beds into one of Britain's largest fisheries, employing about 120,000 men around the coast in the 1880's.  However, by the late 19th century stocks were beginning to be depleted so that by the 1950s the native oyster beds were regarded as scarce (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Edwards, 1997).  This biotope is still regarded as scarce today.  Over-fishing, combined with reductions in water quality, cold winters (hence poor spat fall), flooding, the introduction of non-native competitors and pests, outbreaks of disease and severe winters were blamed for the decline (Korringa, 1952; Yonge, 1960; Edwards, 1997).  As a result, although 700 million oysters were consumed in London alone in 1864, the catch fell from 40 million in 1920 to 3 million in the 1960s; from which the catch has not recovered (Edwards, 1997).  Most populations are now artificially laid for culture and protected by Protection Orders (Fowler, 1999; Edwards, 1997).

The Ostrea edulis fishery in The Solent was once considered to be the largest self-sustaining fishery in Europe (Gravestock et al., 2014).  However, since the turn of the 20th century the population has collapsed significantly three times.  The first collapse occurred between 1919 – 1921 due to a disease epidemic caused by the flagellate protozoan Hexamita (Tubbs, 1999)The second collapse was caused by the 1962 - 1963 winter, during which temperatures were significantly below average (Kamphausen, 2012).  And finally in 2006 when poor recruitment led to sharp drop in the population (Gravestock et al., 2014).  Although a number of potential causes of recruitment failure have been suggested (see Gravestock et al., 2014), it is suggested that overfishing exacerbated the effect of poor recruitment.

Sensitivity assessment.  The current rarity of oyster beds in the UK is due to the pressure the populations were put under due to commercial fishing.  Stock from beds can remain sustainable under commercial fishing pressure.  However, if these populations have a period of bad recruitment or are being affected by another negative pressure, then fishing can compound this effect.  Ostrea edulis have no ability to remove themselves from fishing pressure as they are preminantly attached to the substrate once they have settled from larvae.  For this reason resilience of this biotope is given as ‘None’.  A number of native oyster beds in the UK have been destroyed by fishing and have had to undergo human intervention to return the oyster population.  In some areas oysters have not returned.  Resilience is assessed as ‘Very low’, resulting in a ‘High’ sensitivity score.

None
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Low
High
High
Medium
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High
High
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Medium
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Removal of non-target species [Show more]

Removal of non-target species

Benchmark. Removal of features or incidental non-targeted catch (by-catch) through targeted fishery, shellfishery or harvesting at a commercial or recreational scale. Further detail

Evidence

Direct, physical impacts from harvesting are assessed through the abrasion and penetration of the seabed pressures.  Ostrea edulis is the dominant species within this biotope so they could easily be incidentally removed from this biotope as by-catch when other species are being targeted.  The loss of these species and other associated species would decrease species richness and negatively impact on the ecosystem function.

Sensitivity assessment.  Removal of a large percentage of the characterizing species would alter the character of the biotope.  The resistance to removal is ‘Low’ due to the easy accessibility of the biotopes location and the inability of these species to evade collection.  Resilience is ‘Medium’, with recovery only being able to begin when the harvesting pressure is removed altogether. Therefore, gives an overall sensitivity score of ‘Medium’ is recorded.

Low
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Medium
High
High
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Medium
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Help

Bibliography

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Citation

This review can be cited as:

Perry, F.,, Tyler-Walters, H., & Garrard, S.L., 2023. Ostrea edulis beds on shallow sublittoral muddy mixed sediment. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 05-10-2023]. Available from: https://marlin.ac.uk/habitat/detail/69

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Last Updated: 31/08/2023

  1. Bivalve
  2. mollusc
  3. oyster
  4. bed
  5. biogenic