Large Epibenthic Invertebrates in the Bras d'Or Lakes
Tremblay, M. John
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The distribution of large epibenthic invertebrates (lobster and crabs, bivalve molluscs and echinoderms) in the Bras d’Or Lakes is reviewed, and possible limiting factors are identified. The review is based on published and unpublished studies, including recent trawl surveys directed at fish, and trapping studies directed at American lobster Homarus americanus and green crab Carcinus maenas. The reduced salinities within the Lakes probably limit the distribution of several species (rock crab Cancer irroratus, sea scallop Placopecten magellanicus and possibly American lobster), particularly during the more sensitive larval period. Lobsters and eastern oysters Crassostrea virginica serve to illustrate the multiple factors limiting epibenthic invertebrate distribution within the Bras d’Or Lakes. Lobsters are less abundant within the Bras d’Or Lakes than on the outer coast of Cape Breton Island. Possible reasons are the reduced salinity and limited cobble bottom substrate in the Bras d’Or Lakes, coupled with low food availability and low egg production. Low egg production may be the result of overfishing of lobsters in the past. The life history and physiology of the eastern oyster appears to be well suited to the areas of the Lakes with warm summer temperatures. The oyster populations in the Bras d’Or Lakes are limited by natural predators (e.g. starfish and green crab), competitors (e.g. blue mussel Mytilus edulis and M. trossulus), and overfishing. The green crab, a new arrival to the Bras d’Or Lakes, will likely have negative effects on bivalves such as oysters, but the overall effect of green crab on the Bras d’Or Lakes food web is difficult to predict. Recent trawl surveys indicate both sea urchins Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis and starfish are present in considerable abundance, but little is known about their ecological roles in the Bras d’Or Lakes.