Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Ecosystem stability and Native American oyster harvesting along the Atlantic Coast of the United States

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Science Advances  10 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 28, eaba9652
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba9652


The eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is an important proxy for examining historical trajectories of coastal ecosystems. Measurement of ~40,000 oyster shells from archaeological sites along the Atlantic Coast of the United States provides a long-term record of oyster abundance and size. The data demonstrate increases in oyster size across time and a nonrandom pattern in their distributions across sites. We attribute this variation to processes related to Native American fishing rights and environmental variability. Mean oyster length is correlated with total oyster bed length within foraging radii (5 and 10 km) as mapped in 1889 and 1890. These data demonstrate the stability of oyster reefs despite different population densities and environmental shifts and have implications for oyster reef restoration in an age of global climate change.

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