To assess the role of live oysters in providing habitat, community metrics of resident fishes and decapod crustaceans were compared among 3 habitat treatments: live oyster clusters; cleaned, articulated shell and sand bottom. Sampling was conducted during three seasonally wet and three seasonally dry months using 1-m2 lift nets deployed on an intertidal oyster reef in the Caloosahatchee estuary, Florida. Metrics used to assess relative habitat value included organism density, biomass and species richness. Species-specific comparisons were also made. Results indicate that organism density, biomass and richness were all greater for treatments with shell (live oyster clusters or cleaned, articulated shell) compared with the sand-bottom (no-shell) treatment. Two patterns emerged from species-specific comparisons: (1) species found in live and articulated shell (e.g., flatback mud crab, green porcelain crab) might require shelter; and (2) species found in association with articulated, cleaned shell (i.e., frillfin goby) might use empty oyster boxes for spawning substrate. There was little evidence to suggest that any of the decapods or fishes present were specifically selecting habitat with living oysters present.
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Vol. 24 • No. 4