Australian shellfish ecosystems: Past distribution, current status and future direction

Chris L. Gillies, Ian M. McLeod, Heidi K. Alleway, Peter Cook, Christine Crawford, Colin Creighton, Ben Diggles, John Ford, Paul Hamer, Gideon Heller-Wagner, Emma Lebrault, Agnes Le Port, Kylie Russell, Marcus Sheaves, Bryn Warnock

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Abstract

We review the status of marine shellfish ecosystems formed primarily by bivalves in Australia, including: identifying ecosystem-forming species, assessing their historical and current extent, causes for decline and past and present management. Fourteen species of bivalves were identified as developing complex, three-dimensional reef or bed ecosystems in intertidal and subtidal areas across tropical, subtropical and temperate Australia. A dramatic decline in the extent and condition of Australia's two most common shellfish ecosystems, developed by Saccostrea glomerata and Ostrea angasi oysters, occurred during the mid-1800s to early 1900s in concurrence with extensive harvesting for food and lime production, ecosystem modification, disease outbreaks and a decline in water quality. Out of 118 historical locations containing O. angasi-developed ecosystems, only one location still contains the ecosystem whilst only six locations are known to still contain S. glomerata-developed ecosystems out of 60 historical locations. Ecosystems developed by the introduced oyster Crasostrea gigas are likely to be increasing in extent, whilst data on the remaining 11 ecosystem-forming species are limited, preventing a detailed assessment of their current ecosystem-forming status. Our analysis identifies that current knowledge on extent, physical characteristics, biodiversity and ecosystem services of Australian shellfish ecosystems is extremely limited. Despite the limited information on shellfish ecosystems, a number of restoration projects have recently been initiated across Australia and we propose a number of existing government policies and conservation mechanisms, if enacted, would readily serve to support the future conservation and recovery of Australia's shellfish ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0190914
Number of pages23
JournalPLoS One
Volume13
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2018

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