To evaluate oyster food supply, water samples were collected at fifteen sites in Delaware Bay nearmonthly in 2009 and 2010. Food was estimated as the sum of particulate protein, labile carbohydrate, and lipid. Delaware Bay shows a typical spring bloom, centered in March and April, with declining food supply thereafter into early fall, followed sporadically by a minor fall bloom. The geographic and temporal structure of food was more predictable in summer to early fall, and considerably less predictable in spring. Five variables each based on temperature and the spatial and temporal variability of temperature were significant contributors to a multiple regression (R2 = 0.28). Cluster analysis on residuals identified two large groups of sites, one comprising most sites on the eastern side of the bay including all of the sites on the New Jersey oyster beds downestuary of the uppermost beds and one including most of the sites along the central channel and waters west. Food values over the New Jersey oyster beds were often depressed by as much as 50% relative to the bay-wide mean. Food values did not follow an upestuary-downestuary trend anticipated from the salinity gradient. Rather, the differential was cross-bay and was distinctive throughout the estuarine salinity gradient, thus explaining the lack of significance of any salinity-related variable in the multiple regression. The consequence is that food supply cannot be sufficiently predicted or modeled based on observed environmental variables or those predicted from a hydrodynamic model. The cross-bay differential cannot be extracted from such datasets. The oyster reefs of Delaware Bay are dominantly sited on the New Jersey side, where food supply was most depressed and where passive particle residence times were longest. While not conclusive, this dataset suggests that oysters can influence food values on the New Jersey side of the bay at present biomass, and this would explain the cross-bay gradient in food values as an outcome of oyster feeding.
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