Introduction: Extensive research along the east coast of the U.S. provides evidence that three-dimensional natural and created oyster reefs are important habitat for many estuarine fishes (i.e., Breitburg, 1999; Posey et al., 1999; Coen and Luckenbach, 2000; Meyer and Townsend, 2000; Harding and Mann, 2001a,b, 2003; Lenihan et al., 2001). In contrast, little research exists documenting the use of oyster reefs by fish assemblages in the northern Gulf of Mexico (but see Zimmerman et al., 1989; Glancy et al., 2003). Existing studies in this region, focused on intertidal oyster reefs, suggest that these reefs provide habitat for some invertebrate and fish species (Zimmerman et al., 1989), and potentially provide better habitat than similar environments along the Atlantic coast (Minello, 1999). However, most Gulf coast oyster reefs are subtidal due to the narrow tidal range (Kilgen and Dugas, 1989). In Louisiana, the oyster industry’s practice of planting shell (cultching) in relatively small, flat aggregations results in oyster beds that lack the three-dimensional relief associated with natural oyster reefs. Despite a lack of significant three-dimensional structure, these flat oyster bottoms may provide valuable refuge or foraging habitat for fishes and decapod crustaceans. Description of fish and invertebrate assemblages over these flat oyster bottoms, and comparison to adjacent mud bottom habitat, provide a means to identify the potential importance of these reefs as fish habitat. Given that cultched oyster bottoms comprise, in some areas, over 10% of the bottom habitat (i.e., Barataria Bay, Louisiana), and given the increased interest in identifying important estuarine fish habitats, the use of these reefs and their relative importance as habitat are of significant interest to both ecologists and managers. The objectives of this study were to compare abundance and diversity of transient fishes, resident fishes, and benthic macroinvertebrates at subtidal cultched oyster and mud bottoms in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.
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