Sustainable exploitation and management of autogenic ecosystem engineers: Application to oysters in Chesapeake Bay

Michael J. Wilberg, John R. Wiedenmann, Jason M. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Autogenic ecosystem engineers are critically important parts of many marine and estuarine systems because of their substantial effect on ecosystem services. Oysters are of particular importance because of their capacity to modify coastal and estuarine habitats and the highly degraded status of their habitats worldwide. However, models to predict dynamics of ecosystem engineers have not previously included the effects of exploitation. We developed a linked population and habitat model for autogenic ecosystem engineers undergoing exploitation. We parameterized the model to represent eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) in upper Chesapeake Bay by selecting sets of parameter values that matched observed rates of change in abundance and habitat. We used the model to evaluate the effects of a range of management and restoration options including sustainability of historical fishing pressure, effectiveness of a newly enacted sanctuary program, and relative performance of two restoration approaches. In general, autogenic ecosystem engineers are expected to be substantially less resilient to fishing than an equivalent species that does not rely on itself for habitat. Historical fishing mortality rates in upper Chesapeake Bay for oysters were above the levels that would lead to extirpation. Reductions in fishing or closure of the fishery were projected to lead to long-term increases in abundance and habitat. For fisheries to become sustainable outside of sanctuaries, a substantial larval subsidy would be required from oysters within sanctuaries. Restoration efforts using high-relief reefs were predicted to allow recovery within a shorter period of time than low-relief reefs. Models such as ours, that allow for feedbacks between population and habitat dynamics, can be effective tools for guiding management and restoration of autogenic ecosystem engineers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-776
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology


  • Chesapeake Bay
  • Crassostrea virginica
  • Ecosystem-based management
  • Effects of fishing on habitat
  • Oyster restoration
  • Sustainable harvest
  • United States

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