Parasites indicate trophic complexity and faunal succession in restored oyster reefs over a 22‐year period
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Parasites indicate trophic complexity and faunal succession in restored oyster reefs over a 22‐year period

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  • Journal Title:
    Ecological Applications
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    Foundation species like the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) create complex habitats for organisms across multiple trophic levels. Historic declines in oyster abundance have prompted decades of restoration efforts. However, it remains unclear how long it takes for restored reefs to resemble the trophic complexity of natural reefs. We used a space‐for‐time approach to examine community succession of restored reefs ranging in age from 3 to 22 years old in coastal North Carolina, surveying both free‐living taxa and parasite communities and comparing them to natural reefs that are decades old. Trophically transmitted parasites can serve as valuable biodiversity surrogates, sometimes providing greater information about a system or question than their free‐living counterparts. We found that the diversity of free‐living taxa was highly variable and did not differ among new (<10 years), old (20 years), and natural reefs. Conversely, parasite diversity increased with elapsed time after restoration, and parasite communities in older restored reefs resembled those found in natural reefs. Our study also revealed that oyster toadfish (Opsanus tau) act as a key host species capable of facilitating parasite transmission and trophic ascent in oyster reef food webs. Overall, our results suggest that trophic complexity in restored oyster reefs requires at least 8 years to resemble that found in natural reefs. This work adds to a growing body of evidence demonstrating how parasites can serve as biodiversity surrogates, proxies for the presence of additional taxa that are often difficult or impractical to sample. Given the multiplicity of links formed with their hosts, parasites offer a powerful tool for quantifying diversity and trophic complexity in environmental monitoring studies.
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    Ecological Applications, 33(4)
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