CCS Director Dr. Christine Angelini co-authored a recently published paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology titled Life cycle informed restoration: Engineering settlement substrate material characteristics and structural complexity for reef formation.
The study defines and experimentally tests ‘life cycle informed restoration’, a restoration concept that focuses on overcoming multiple bottlenecks throughout the target species’ lifetime. Complementary experiments were performed in intertidal soft-sediment systems in Florida and the Netherlands where oysters and mussels act as reef-building habitat modifiers. The researchers used biodegradable structures designed to facilitate bivalve reef recovery by both stimulating settlement with hard and fibrous substrates and post-settlement survival by reducing predation.
These trans-Atlantic experiments demonstrate that these structures enabled bivalve reef formation by: (a) facilitating larval recruitment via species-specific settlement substrates, and (b) enhancing post-settlement survival by lowering predation. In the Netherlands, structures with coir rope most strongly facilitated mussels by providing fibrous settlement substrate, and predation-lowering spatially complex hard attachment substrate. In Florida, oysters were greatly facilitated by hard substrates, while coir rope proved unbeneficial.
These findings demonstrate that artificial biodegradable reefs can enhance bivalve reef restoration across the Atlantic by mimicking emergent traits that ameliorate multiple bottlenecks over the reef-forming organism’ life cycle. This highlights the potential of this approach as a cost-effective and practical tool for nature managers to restore systems dominated by habitat modifiers whose natural recovery is hampered by multiple life stage-dependent bottlenecks.
The widespread degradation of ecosystems critically requires the need to conduct large-scale restoration. Approaches such as life cycle informed restoration, which deals with overcoming multiple bottlenecks, may be vital to achieving this grand societal challenge.