Population Biology and Restoration of Intertidal Cockle Beds
Thesis DisciplineEnvironmental Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
There is evidence that infaunal bivalves in New Zealand are not as abundant as they once were with overfishing and habitat modification contributing to the decline in density and health of cockles. The population biology and abundance of the bivalve Austrovenus stutchburyi (tuangi) in eight beds in four estuaries was assessed both seasonally (13 seasons) and annually (7 years) as little is known about the cockle beds in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. As with populations of similar species worldwide, there were site specific differences in population structure (density and size ranges) with the highest densities at Takamatua (>1500/m²), and the lowest at Port Levy (<350/m²). Gonad indices varied between male and female cockles. Male reproductive cycles were similar at all sites with male cockles being reproductively active year round, while females were more active in spring and summer. Temporal and spatial site specific differences occurred in cockle condition with high salinity sites having higher condition indices (CI) than low salinity sites. There were spatial and temporal variations in salinity (3-35ppt), sediment structure (fine sand through to predominantly silt), water temperature (6-20°C), nutrient supply (total volatile solids (TVS) 0.002- 0.15mg/L) and contaminant levels. Metal pollution indices (MPI) ranged between 3 and 11. Three cockle transplant trials were undertaken both within and between estuarine systems. Caged cockles survived well, and cage design needed to allow vertical movement of the bivalves within the substrate to reduce mortality. At the end of the 12 month trial, approximately 45% of the cockles remained in the plots. The condition of transplanted cockles was similar to naturally occurring cockles. Recommendations are made to optimise the success of cockle transplants. Large scale, un-caged placement of 25-30mm length cockles in the mid-low tide region of areas with stable, but not necessarily uncontaminated substrate, moderate salinity and temperature and with a reliable nutrient supply is recommended. The results from the thesis research can be applied to other infaunal bivalves in New Zealand allowing more successful restoration processes leading to increased species diversity and ecosystem functioning.