Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. in Biological Science

First Advisor

Kristine L. Willett

Second Advisor

Deborah J. Gochfeld

Third Advisor

Marc Slattery


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



Recent estimates revealed a significant decrease in oyster populations worldwide. This drastic decrease has detrimental effects on coastal and estuarine ecosystems. Two environmental stressors that are thought to be contributing to the oyster population decline are hypoxia and excess freshwater intrusion. In this study, effects of hypoxia and low salinity on oysters were investigated using a combination of laboratory and field-based methods. In the laboratory, oysters were exposed to 2, 4, or 8 days of hypoxia (< 2 mg/L dissolved oxygen) folloby 6 days of recovery in normoxic conditions. At the same time, caged oysters were exposed to a naturally occurring hypoxic event in the field. After 8 days, laboratory-exposed oysters shoevidence of immunosuppression indicated by significant downregulation of the immune-related gene thymosin-β4 (Tβ-4) and a significant decrease in total circulating hemocytes compared to controls. However, in field oysters exposed to a naturally occurring hypoxic event, no effect on total hemocyte counts and an upregulation of Tβ-4 was observed. In a second field study, to investigate how oysters respond to prolonged freshwater exposure, caged oysters were placed on 23 April 2019 at six reef sites in the Mississippi Sound along with in situ water quality sensors. One-hundred percent mortality of caged oysters occurred at four of the six sites. Of the 6 six sites, Henderson Point Reef and Kittiwake Reef shosome caged oyster survival. At Henderson Point, where higher mortality was observed compared to Kittiwake, a significant increase in lipid peroxidation was detected. Analysis of mRNA expression of surviving caged and native oysters revealed downregulation of genes involved in immune function, low oxygen response, and osmoregulation. These results show possible evidence of energetic depression which inhibits adequate adaptation to low salinity conditions. Energetic depression and increased oxidative damage could have contributed to higher oyster mortality. Dredge sampling of native oysters at the all Mississippi Sound field sites on 27 September 2019, following recovery to ~15 ppt salinity, still indicated 100% native oyster mortality due to the prior prolonged freshwater exposure. Continued monitoring of western Mississippi Sound oyster reefs is crucial to observe recovery of oyster populations.



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