Satellite remote sensing reveals a positive impact of living oyster reefs on microalgal biofilm development

Echappé, Caroline; Gernez, Pierre; Méléder, Vona; Jesus, Bruno; Cognie, Bruno; Decottignies, Priscilla; Sabbe, Koen; Barillé, Laurent

Satellite remote sensing (RS) is routinely used for the large-scale monitoring of microphytobenthos (MPB) biomass in intertidal mudflats and has greatly improved our knowledge of MPB spatio-temporal variability and its potential drivers. Processes operating on smaller scales however, such as the impact of benthic macrofauna on MPB development, to date remain underinvestigated. In this study, we analysed the influence of wild Crassostrea gigas oyster reefs on MPB biofilm development using multispectral RS. A 30-year time series (1985–2015) combining high-resolution (30 m) Landsat and SPOT data was built in order to explore the relationship between C. gigas reefs and MPB spatial distribution and seasonal dynamics, using the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). Emphasis was placed on the analysis of a before–after control-impact (BACI) experiment designed to assess the effect of oyster killing on the surrounding MPB biofilms. Our RS data reveal that the presence of oyster reefs positively affects MPB biofilm development. Analysis of the historical time series first showed the presence of persistent, highly concentrated MPB patches around oyster reefs. This observation was supported by the BACI experiment which showed that killing the oysters (while leaving the physical reef structure, i.e. oyster shells, intact) negatively affected both MPB biofilm biomass and spatial stability around the reef. As such, our results are consistent with the hypothesis of nutrient input as an explanation for the MPB growth-promoting effect of oysters, whereby organic and inorganic matter released through oyster excretion and biodeposition stimulates MPB biomass accumulation. MPB also showed marked seasonal variations in biomass and patch shape, size and degree of aggregation around the oyster reefs. Seasonal variations in biomass, with higher NDVI during spring and autumn, were consistent with those observed on broader scales in other European mudflats. Our study provides the first multi-sensor RS satellite evidence of the promoting and structuring effect of oyster reefs on MPB biofilms.

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Echappé, Caroline / Gernez, Pierre / Méléder, Vona / et al: Satellite remote sensing reveals a positive impact of living oyster reefs on microalgal biofilm development. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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