Recruitment of the Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas in a shellfish-exploited Mediterranean lagoon: discovery, driving factors and a favorable environmental window.
In the context of increasing demand for environmental recovery, aquatic systems may face the challenge of evolving under oligotrophication. This is the case in Mediterranean lagoons, in particular the shellfish-farmed Thau lagoon in France, where we studied recruitment of the Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas. Oyster spat and environmental parameters were monitored at several sampling sites for 3 yr (2012 to 2014) using an original method with a temporal overlap deployment of collectors to study pre- and post-settlement processes and to identify the best conditions for recruitment. Contrary to the 'no Pacific oyster reproduction' paradigm in Mediterranean lagoons, our study showed that recruitment of this introduced species is possible in the Thau lagoon at levels comparable to those in other traditional French breeding basins. We identified a favorable environmental window for recruitment characterized by high water temperature (>26.5°C) and high nanophytoplankton and Chaetoceros spp. abundances (>4.3×106 and 345×103 cells l-1, respectively). In these favorable conditions, we hypothesize that the ecosystem functions as an autotrophic system, in contrast to the heterotrophic system that characterizes unfavorable conditions. Under heterotrophic conditions, high abundances of mixotrophic and heterotrophic organisms (ciliates and dinoflagellates) limited the metamorphosis of C. gigas larvae, leading to poor recruitment. This study provides new knowledge on the reproduction of the Pacific oyster in a Mediterranean lagoon under warming and oligotrophication. The shellfish industry will profit from the discovery of spatfields to develop new nursery practices that are eco-friendly and limit risks of transfers with other spatfall areas.