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Variations in eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) sex-ratios from three Virginia estuaries: protandry, growth and demographics

  • Juliana M. Harding (a1), Eric N. Powell (a2), Roger Mann (a1) and Melissa J. Southworth (a1)
Abstract

Oyster population reproductive capacity and dynamics are controlled at the most basic level by the observed sex-ratios. Since oysters are sequential, protandric hermaphrodites the population sex-ratio is related to the demographics (shell length, age, and biomass). Oysters were collected from June through to August 2008 at twelve bars in the James, Rappahannock and Great Wicomico Rivers, Virginia, USA. Bars were aggregated into five groups on the basis of similar age–length relationships. Sex-ratios (fraction female), age–length, and biomass–length relationships were determined for each group. The fraction female increased within increasing shell length, age, and biomass at all sites. Simultaneous hermaphrodites were rarely observed. Group specific differences in shell length (SL, mm) and age (yr) for the timing of the protandric shift were observed with the earliest shift from male to female occurring at ~60 mm SL and ~1.6 yr. The proportion of females observed in the larger or older individuals was at least 70–80%. Sex-ratios from summer 2008 were used to develop sex–length, sex–age, and sex–biomass keys that were applied to autumn-survey data from 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. In these years, sex-ratios by shell length and age were strongly biased towards males while the sex-ratio by biomass was strongly biased towards females. Disease mortality compounds natural and fishing mortality resulting in age/size specific cropping yielding truncated population demographics and an earlier protandric shift in populations on the extremes of the range examined. Regardless of location, market (>76 mm SL) oysters are predominantly female.

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Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: J.M. Harding, Department of Marine Science, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, SC, USA 29528, email: jharding@coastal.edu
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Current address: Department of Marine Science, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, SC, USA 29528

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