The importance of nonnative Pacific oyster reefs as supplementary feeding areas for coastal birds on estuary mudflats

Author(s): Herbert, R.J.H., Davies, C.J., Bowgen, K.M., Hatton, J. & Stillman, R.A.
Published: 2018
Journal: Aquatic Conservation
Digital Identifier No.: 10.1002/aqc.2938


A combined empirical and modelling approach was used to investigate the value of a Pacific oyster reef to feeding shorebirds and to observe and predict the impact of reef clearance on bird populations in the Colne Estuary, a protected area in south‐east England. Macro‐invertebrate biomass and numbers of feeding birds were measured on a Pacific oyster reef, an adjacent uncolonized mudflat, and an area of mudflat that had been cleared of oysters 6 months previously. These data were used to parameterize an individual‐based model (MORPH) to predict the impact of clearance of the reef on winter bird survival. Feeding success and intake rates of Eurasian oystercatcher, Eurasian curlew, and Eurasian common redshank were also recorded during the course of a winter.
The macro‐invertebrate diversity and biomass within both the oyster reef and the cleared area were significantly greater than the adjacent uncolonized mudflat. The density and biomass of large invertebrate prey in the mudflat were low, yet the Pacific oyster reef had much higher densities and biomass of large prey, especially annelids and shore crabs.
The winter assemblage of feeding birds differed significantly between each of the areas. The mean total number of feeding birds was significantly greater on the uncolonized mudflat; however, mean peak counts, feeding success rate and prey intake rate of Eurasian oystercatcher were greater on the reef. Significantly greater intake rates and feeding success rates were also observed on the reef for Eurasian curlew, a species of conservation concern.
Field data and model predictions show that Pacific oyster reefs can provide valuable supplementary feeding areas for some shorebirds, yet other species avoided the reef. However, as estuaries vary in available feeding resources, it is important that the value of reefs and their management is determined regionally.

Publication links

Link to Article (DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2938)