Age structure, carbonate production and shell loss rate in an Early Miocene reef of the giant oyster Crassostrea gryphoides
Abstract. We present the first analysis of population structure and cohort distribution in a fossil oyster shell bed based on 1121 shells of the giant oyster Crassostrea gryphoides (von Schlotheim, 1813). Data derive from terrestrial laser scanning of a Lower Miocene shell bed covering 459 m2. Within two transects, individual shells were manually outlined on a digital surface model and cross-checked based on high-resolution orthophotos, resulting in accurate information on center line length and area of exposed shell surface. A growth model was calculated, revealing this species as the fastest growing and largest Crassostrea known so far. Non-normal distribution of size, area and age data hints at the presence of at least four distinct recruitment cohorts. The rapid decline of frequency amplitudes with age is interpreted to be a function of mortality and shell loss. The calculated shell half-lives range around a few years, indicating that oyster reefs were geologically short-lived structures, which could have been fully degraded on a decadal scale.
Crassostrea gryphoides reefs were widespread and common along the Miocene circum-Tethyan coasts. Given its enormous growth performance of ∼ 150 g carbonate per year this species has been an important carbonate producer in estuarine settings. Yet, the rapid shell loss impeded the formation of stable structures comparable to coral reefs.