Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Integrative Life Sciences

First Advisor

Bonnie Brown


Native oysters have been promoted as a means to improve water quality in Chesapeake Bay. This project added important insights into the potential of oyster aquaculture to process and remove nutrients from Bay waters. Results clarified that nutrient removal of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and carbon (C) through harvest of cultivated oyster biomass can be quantified and modeled with high levels of statistical confidence. A simple, yet accurate, method is now available for estimating the amount of nutrients removed via harvesting aquacultured oysters. Based on model estimates, 106 harvest sized oysters (76 mm TL) remove 132 kg TN, 19 kg TP, and 3,823 kg TC. Previous work suggested that potentially substantial quantities of N may be removed through enhancement of the coupled nitrification-denitrification pathway in sediments as a result of oyster biodeposition. Using 15N and N2/Ar methods to measure N2 production in sediments, encompassing direct denitrification (DNF), coupled nitrification- denitrification, and anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) pathways, at two oyster aquaculture sites and two reference sites (no aquaculture), we found that oyster biodeposition did not accelerate sediment N removal. We estimate sediment N removal rates via N2 production at an oyster cultivation site producing 5 x 105 oysters (1750 m2) to range from 0.49-12.60 kg N yr-1, compared to 2.27-16.72 kg N yr-1 at a reference site of the same area; making the contribution of oyster cultivation to N removal via sediment N2 production inconsequential as a policy initiative for Chesapeake Bay eutrophication mitigation. Molecular approaches and direct abundance measures have improved our understanding of the sediment microbial community response to oyster biodeposition. Overall, sediments impacted by oyster biodeposition had a significantly different denitrifying community composition than sediments a few meters away or at the non-aquaculture reference sites. Bacterial abundance in sediments was determined by site rather than by oyster biodeposition. No apparent effects of oyster biodeposition were evident in nitrifying bacterial abundance patterns at either site, indicating that oyster biodeposition does not enhance coupled nitrification-denitrification by increasing the abundance of nitrifiers in sediments.


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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

August 2011

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Life Sciences Commons