Quantifying the Effects of Commercial Clam Aquaculture on C and N Cycling: an Integrated Ecosystem Approach Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Increased interest in using bivalve cultivation to mitigate eutrophication requires a comprehensive understanding of the net carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) budgets associated with cultivation on an ecosystem scale. This study quantified C and N processes related to clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) aquaculture in a shallow coastal environment (Cherrystone Inlet, VA) where the industry has rapidly increased. Clam physiological rates were compared with basin-wide ecosystem fluxes including primary production, benthic nutrient regeneration, and respiration. Although clam beds occupy only 3% of the ecosystem’s surface area, clams filtered 7-44% of the system’s volume daily, consumed an annual average of 103% of the phytoplankton production, creating a large flux of particulate C and N to the sediments. Annually, N regenerated and C respired by clam and microbial metabolism in clam beds were ~3-fold and ~1.5-fold higher, respectively, than N and C removed through harvest. Due to the short water residence time, the low watershed load, and the close vicinity of clam beds to the mouth of Cherrystone Inlet, cultivated clams are likely subsidized by phytoplankton from the Chesapeake Bay. Consequently, much of the N released by mineralization associated with clam cultivation is ‘new’ N as it would not be present in the system without bivalve facilitation. Macroalgae that are fueled by the enhanced N regeneration from clams represents a eutrophying process resulting from aquaculture. This synthesis demonstrates the importance of considering impacts of bivalve aquaculture in an ecosystem context especially relative to the potential of bivalves to remove nutrients and enhance C sinks.

publication date

  • November 2016