Predicting Habitat Quality of Juvenile English Sole and Dungeness Crab in Coastal and Estuarine Nursery Grounds (2012-2014)

Lorenzo Ciannelli
Oregon State University
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
104 CEOAS Administration Building
Corvallis, Oregon 97331
Phone: 541-737-3142
On the Web:
OSU Fisheries Oceanography Lab

 The coastal waters off central Oregon are highly productive and host a rich and abundant community of commercially valuable resources. These waters are also affected by low dissolved oxygen (DO), or hypoxia, especially during summer months. Hypoxia may be particularly harmful to coastal areas which include nursery locations for many juvenile-stage benthic and demersal commercial species. However, short-term or occasional hypoxia exposure can also have beneficial effects on certain species. For example, predators which are relatively tolerant to low DO levels may encounter more prey or less competition from other, more vulnerable species. The balance between positive and negative effects of hypoxia on fish and invertebrates is complex and involves understanding synergic effects that other co-occurring environmental stressors, such as water temperature, have on the animals' physiology and ecology.

In previous research, Dr. Ciannelli found indications that DO is positively correlated with behavioral performance and body conditions of some juvenile flatfish species. However, it is difficult from field studies alone to separate these effects from that of water temperature. This project will build upon these previous investigations by including an experimental and modeling component.

This project worked to establish a quantitative relationship between hypoxia level, water temperature, and juvenile English sole/Dungeness crab growth and consumption. The quantitative results of these analyses can be integrated with field measurements to map the growth potential for juvenile stages of these animals in a given area. Identifying a particular habitat type, ocean or estuarine, as more successful at seeding adult populations of English sole and Dungeness crab under specific environmental conditions will influence management and conservation efforts. 

Given the increasing needs of marine spatial planning and coastal marine habitats, a better understanding of a habitat’s ecological role is critical. By filling this knowledge gap Dr. Ciannelli can establish new principles or modify existing criteria for spatial management efforts, including marine protected areas, wave energy farms and trawl restriction areas. For example, one coastal sampling site off of Moolack Beach, Oregon is rich in English sole  - and also the site where a small set of wave-energy buoys are due to be deployed as a pilot study in 2013. Dr. Ciannelli’s project will help inform managers of such projects on the consequences such installations could have for local biota.