As global climate change continues to accelerate, the aquatic environment is changing, causing stress and other responses by the resident species. The majority of studies that observe organismal response to these changes are conducted in a highly controlled laboratory setting that may not translate to the complexities of a natural ecosystem. The Oyster Research Project uses a combination of laboratory and field-based research to observe the performance of the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) under different controlled conditions.
Oysters are key ecosystem engineers. Oyster reefs provide habitat, enhance biodiversity and fishery stock, promote denitrification, improve water quality through filtration, stabilize shorelines, buffer storms, and in some instances, outpace sea level rise. Unfortunately, 85% of oyster reefs have been lost globally during the last century due to a variety of threats including climate change, habitat degradation, high nutrient loads, and overfishing. The acidifying water (lower pH), reductions in oxygen, and ocean temperature warming due to climate change are creating additional environmental stressors that impact oyster performance.
The scientists of the Oyster Research Project will monitor oyster performance by creating two mesocosm systems (experimental water systems designed to provide a limited body of water with close to natural conditions where the environmental factors can be realistically manipulated). By using the flow-through tank at Lamont’s Hudson River Field Station that cycles Hudson River water, the scientists can create a lab-based mesocosm. A field-deployed mesocosm will be located off the end of Piermont Pier in the Hudson River using instruments to help alter conditions. This study will provide critical data on how oysters will handle a rapidly changing climate.