About melissakarp

I am a Master's student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. My research focuses on studying oyster reef ecosystem services and restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.

First Draft: Life Among the Oysters

For my first draft, I outlined the format and information that I wish to include on my webpage/site on oyster reef restoration, ecology, and my research! I am working with Lisa Lawrence at VIMS to design the webpage. In addition to the text below I will also include some images and videos taken of the reefs we sampled. The audience is K-12 (though mainly middle and high school) students and teachers, and the goal of the webpage is to provide more information about the role of oyster reefs as an important habitat, not simply a fisheries resource, and bring to life some of the organisms that utilize these important habitats. Hopefully after exploring the site students will come away with a new appreciation for oyster reefs and start thinking of them in a similar sense as people do coral reefs or mangrove forests: as an at risk or threatened habitat in need of protection.

Potential Site Structure:

  1. Homepage (Oyster reef habitats/threats …)
  2. Meet the scientists (about me)
    1. Under this I will go into my research/methods
  3. Interactive reef page
    1. Species descriptions (pop-ups)
  4. Exhaustive species list

1. Oyster Reef Habitats and Biodiversity

Oysters have a long history as an economically important resource worldwide. In the Chesapeake Bay region oysters have been an important food source since before colonization, and were once so abundant that they posed as navigation hazards to ships (Reference). Unfortunately, oyster reefs are now one of the most endangered habitats in the world, having suffered an estimated 85% global loss over the past century (Beck et al. 2011), and in the Chesapeake Bay the population is only 1% of its historic level. This decline is a result of overharvesting, declining water quality, habitat destruction and disease. In response to this decline, and the negative economic and ecological consequences resulting from it, there have been increasing efforts to restore these habitats and the numerous services they provide.

When thinking of ‘oysters’ most people conjure up an image of a plate of oysters on the half shell with tartar sauce and lemon, however, oysters perform many more services to humans and ecosystems beyond human consumption. One important service provided by oysters comes from how oysters grow. Oysters recruit to and settle on hard surfaces, such as other oysters. Therefore, oysters grow on and around each other, forming three dimensional structured habitats. These habitats, referred to as ‘oyster reefs’ are the Chesapeake Bay’s equivalent of a coral reef, and like coral reefs, oyster reefs serve as valuable habitat and foraging grounds for numerous species of fish and invertebrates. These species, though often not of economic value themselves, are often important sources of food for higher trophic levels of commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish.

2. Restoration and Research

Current restoration efforts, in recognition of this valuable service, have shifted focus from a goal of increasing oyster biomass for commercial harvest, to one of increasing the value of these reefs as a structured habitat in the Bay. In order to improve the likelihood of successful restoration, marine scientists, are conducting experiments and surveys of oyster reefs to help answer some of the uncertainties resource managers have regarding ‘best practices’ for oyster reef restoration.

Meet a Marine Scientist:

Hello! My name is, Melissa Karp, and I am a graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. My research focuses on identifying the diversity and abundance of organisms that live on restored oyster reefs and determining the factors which influence those species’ abundances. This work was carried out in four rivers in the lower Chesapeake Bay during the summers of 2014 and 2015 (Image 1).

(Image 1 will be: Here is a map of the Chesapeake Bay with the four rivers sampled indicated with the colored stars. Sampling these four rivers allowed us to sample a wide salinity range from 12psu-26psu.)

Benthic settling trays were imbedded into reefs by SCUBA divers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and left for 7 weeks (Image 2).

(Image 2 will be: (Left) Here I am measuring ‘rugosity’, which is a measurement of the complexity of the surface shell material, using a chain after we retrieved the tray. (Right) Here are the wonderful divers who helped deploy and retrieve the trays.)

The trays were removed and then sorted in the lab. All species collected were then identified and weighed to provide information about species diversity, abundance, and biomass (productivity). Volumes of dead shell, clumps, boxes (articulated dead oyster shell) and live single oysters (unclumped oysters) were also measured to provide additional information about the complexity of the shell material within each tray. Initial results reveal that these restored reefs are home to a host a different species, whose abundances seem to be related to the total amount of oyster shell material present.

3. Interactive Oyster Reef:

Explore the oyster reef below and search for the organisms hiding among the oysters. Click on their pictures to learn more about these oyster reef residents! (**the below blurbs will pop up when people click on the species in the image)

Common Name: Naked Goby

Scientific Name: Gobiosoma bosci

Interesting facts: The naked goby is the most abundant goby species in the Chesapeake bay, though it is quite elusive as it hides in seagrass beds and among the shells in oyster reef habitats.

Role/Function: Naked gobies are important predators in oyster reef communities eating worms and small crustaceans that live among the shells. These fish are also important prey resources for larger transient fish (fish that utilize oyster reefs for only parts of their lives, such as foraging), such as striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish, which are of commercial and recreational importance.


Common name: Atlantic Mud Crab or Black-fingered Mud Crab

Scientific name: Panopeus herbstii

Interesting fact: P. herbstii is the largest of the five mud crab species found in the Chesapeake Bay. Also, they are a host of a peculiar ‘castrating’ parasitic barnacle in the genus Loxothylacus. (www.sms.si.edu)

Role/Function: These crabs are predators of oyster spat (newly settled oysters) and barnacles, and are a food resource for larger crustaceans and fish.


Common name: Flat-backed Mud Crab

Scientific name: Eurypanopeus depressus

Interesting facts:



Common name: Big-clawed snapping shrimp

Scientific name: Alpheus heterochaelis

Interesting facts: These shrimp may be small, growing to only 1-2 inches long, but they are one of the loudest animals on the planet. They make loud popping or clicking sounds with their one large claw. These noises are used to signal and communicate with other snapping shrimp for either territorial or mating purposes. They can also use this larger claw to shoot a powerful stream of water at their prey to stun them.

Role/Function: Big-clawed snapping shrimp are omnivorous, meaning that they eat both animals and plant material. They eat small fish, other crustaceans, and worms, as well as detritus (decaying plant matter). They are prey items for large fish such as red drum and weakfish.


Common name: Marsh grass shrimp

Scientific name: Palaemontes vulgaris

Interesting facts: This species of shrimp has been shown to compete with and potentially displace another shrimp species, P. pugio, which also prefers oyster reef habitats.

Role/Function: Marsh shrimp are generalist foragers, meaning that they can act as both carnivores and detritivores. They act as carnivores by consuming amphipods (small crustaceans) and polychaetes (worms), and as detrivores by consuming and breaking down dead/decaying seagrass and other plant matter. They are also important food for fish such as red drum, striped bass, and weakfish, which are of commercial and recreational importance.


Common name: Common clam worm

Scientific name: Alitta succinea (previously: Neanthes succinea, Nereis succinea)

Interesting fact: Alitta is known to swarm at the surface of the water ususally at night near artificial or moon light during spawning, which occurs in spring and summer. The worms die after they have spawned!

Role/Function: Alitta are deposit feeders, meaning that they consume the mud and get their nutrition from the microbes and small organisms that live within the mud. They are prey for various oyster reef inhabitants such as mud crabs, shrimp, and gobies.


*4. The last page will be a list of all the species that I collected during my study, as well as additional resources for students (references, or links other sites/references?).



Project Proposal: Life among the Oysters

Oyster reefs provide a suite of valuable ecosystem services, such as water filtration, nitrogen sequestration, and provision of habitat and foraging grounds for benthic organisms. Unfortunately, these habitats have suffered significant global decline over the last century. This global decline has had negative economic and ecological impacts in coastal waters worldwide. This problem is quite severe here in the Chesapeake Bay where < 1% of the historic oyster population remains. As a result there are increasing efforts to restore oyster populations and the services they provide. Building reefs that successfully provide specific ecosystem services – such as provision of benthic habitat – may require different techniques then previously used, and success may depend on reef morphology, location, and environmental conditions. Additionally, there remains limited understanding and information regarding the value of restored oyster reefs as an important habitat in the Bay, and the factors that influence this value. My research seeks to first quantify the organism abundance and composition on restored oyster reefs, and then relate it to the location (environmental parameters) and structural complexity of the reefs. To this end settling trays were embedded into previously restored oyster reefs that varied in their structural complexity (rugosity), as determined by the chain-link method. Trays were collected after 7-weeks, sorted, and species identified and weighed (ash-free dry weight) to obtain species diversity, abundance, and biomass.

There are many different stakeholders interested in the issue, but the one I will focus on is the general public. More specifically I will target those members of the local community who are seeking to become more knowledgeable about and engaged in the research being conducted here in the Bay, right in their backyards. From my conversation with people in the local community they seem really interested in understanding the Bay and research being conducted here, but may have trouble finding the information they are looking for, or finding ways to gain knowledge in an easy to understand manner. Particularly with oyster reef restoration I’ve realized that most people don’t think of oyster reefs as an important habitat, and don’t know much about the numerous species that live on these reefs. Most people tend to think of the oyster and its economic values.

For my communication outreach project I want to provide an easily accessible and understandable means for this target audience to satisfy their desire to learn about and participate in Chesapeake Bay research. In particular I want to highlight the role of oyster reefs as an important habitat in the Bay and highlight the various organism that are found in high abundance on these reefs and rely on these reefs for survival. In order to accomplish this I will design a website where I provide a background of oysters and restoration efforts in the Bay, and then describe the research I am conducting. In order to help explain my methods and engage the audience I want to incorporate some sort of interactive component on the webpage. For instance, I was thinking of having a ‘sorting game’ where there are pictures of worms, fish, crabs, shrimp and mussels all mixed up in a square area, and they have to sort them by picking them out and placing them the appropriate species box. Another option would be to have then take some rugosity measurements. My hope is that this website will provide a forum for my research to become assessable to the public, and allow them to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the importance of restored oyster reefs to the health of the Bay. I believe that having an informed and engaged public will help put more pressure on managers, and increase support for more restoration efforts in the Bay.