McCulloch, Danielle. MS Thesis
The heterogeneity provided by structured habitats is important in supporting diverse and dense fish communities. The biogenic reefs created by the native Eastern Oyster, Crassostrea virginica, were once the dominant structural habitat in Chesapeake Bay, and have since declined to less than 1% of historic estimates. Conflicting results on the effects of oyster reef restoration on pelagic fish assemblages make further investigation necessary. Incorporating multiple sampling strategies may help elucidate oyster reef habitat influence on fish assemblages. This study used multi-panel gillnets, hydroacoustic technology, and day-night sampling to describe pelagic fish assemblages on and off oyster reef habitat in the lower Piankatank River, VA. Data from oyster reef habitat, adjacent sandy-mud bottom habitat, and unstructured sandy habitat outside of a reef restoration area compared fish diversity, species composition, and density among habitat types. A multivariate analysis using day of the year, day or night, and habitat type as model terms found temporal factors explained variation in fish distribution more than habitat. Fish diversity varied significantly with day or night and habitat type. Diversity and density were significantly higher at night, demonstrating the necessity of nocturnal sampling in fish assemblage research. Results from this study conclude that fish assemblages were not significantly more diverse or denser on reef than non-reef habitat. We suggest that future work should concentrate on studying areas where oyster reef habitat comprises a larger proportion of the study area.