The Allometry of Oysters: Spatial and Temporal Variation in the Length-Biomass Relationships for Crassostrea virginica

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


We examine the relationship of biomass B and length L in the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica by focusing on the scaling exponent b in the allometric equation B = aL(b) using four datasets: Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Galveston Bay and a regionally extensive compilation from the NOAA Mussel Watch Program. The average value of the scaling exponent in Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay is about 2. For Galveston Bay, the value is distinctly higher, near 2.6. Over all Mussel Watch sites, the value is again near 2. Within Delaware Bay, the salinity gradient exerts an important effect. Shells are longer for their meat weight at lower salinities. The range of scaling exponents revealed by Mussel Watch data is exceedingly large (b < 1 to > 3). Scaling exponents below 2.5 are unusual in bivalves. Among bivalves, only other oyster taxa have comparably low scaling exponents averaging near 2. We propose that oyster biomass routinely scales nearer the square of the length rather than the cube and that this is a constraint imposed by the exigency of carbonate production for reef maintenance and accretion in the face of high rates of taphonomic degradation. The adaptation as a reef builder requires the formation of carbonate that rapidly breaks down, thus requiring that carbonate produced be maximized. A biomass-to-length scaling exponent of 2 provides a mechanism to maximize shell production relative to biomass, while at the same time providing maximum surface area for the all-important settling of oyster spat to maintain the population.

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Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom





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