Effects of Salinity on Settlement and Metamorphosis of the Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica)

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Priester, Anna Priester
Meritt, Donald W
The eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is a euryhaline species known for its historic populations, valuable fishery, and ecological importance. One of the most critical periods in the oyster’s life cycle is its transition from a free-swimming pelagic larva into its sessile benthic form. Despite the importance of this transition, which includes attachment to a substrate (settlement) and metamorphosis into the juvenile, our understanding of salinity tolerance during these processes is limited. This study was designed to quantify the effects of salinity on settlement and metamorphosis and to determine if those effects were influenced by the salinity in which the larvae were reared. Multiple cohorts of pediveliger larvae from hatcheries grown in Low (10), Medium (15-16.5) and High (22-27.5) salinities were allowed four days to settle in twelve salinity treatments ranging from 5 to 35. A set of additional experiments was extended to 14 days to investigate if the settlers were also able to complete metamorphosis and demonstrate juvenile growth within the same range of salinities. Settlement consistently occurred all tested salinities (5-35), indicating that pediveliger larvae can adapt to a broader salinity range than described in previous research. Highest settlement rates were achieved in treatment salinities between 11 and 30 for all three larval groups. Settlement performance outside that optimal range was highest for the larvae group reared in salinities closest to those extremes. Settlers from the 14-day experiments demonstrated metamorphosis and high post-settlement survivorship in all salinity treatments, but juvenile growth rates were reduced in salinities less than 9 and above 30. This highly repeated study reveals the impressive capacity for pediveliger larvae to tolerate a wide range of salinities and has direct implications for oyster aquaculture and our understanding of natural recruitment.