What Do Oysters Do?

Huge oyster bed in British Columbia, Canada.

Oysters are foundation species, meaning that like coral or kelp species, they play a strong role in structuring communities of other marine species. Oysters create habitat for many small invertebrates and fish that can live on the shells of live oysters, inside shells of dead oysters or in the spaces between oyster shells in oyster beds. Oyster beds or mounds can help accumulate sediment, which may benefit aquatic vegetation.

 

Oysters are an important part of the estuarine wood web and contribute to the cycling of nutrients. They can be food for other animals, such as crabs and birds. 

Underwater view of a crab eating an oyster.
A crab forages in a native oyster bed in Nootka Sound, British Columbia. Photo: Brian Kingzett.
American oystercatcher foraging in oyster bed.
Black oystercatcher searching for food in San Francisco Bay. Photo: Sally Rae Kimmel, California State Coastal Conservancy.

Oysters are filter feeders, drawing water into their bodies and removing tiny phytoplankton. Large numbers of oysters may improve water clarity. This benefits aquatic vegetation, which depends on light to carry out photosynthesis.