The American Oystercatcher as a bioindicator of the health of coastal ecosystems in Jayuya Beach- Fajardo.

By glorimar agosto 1, 2014
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American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates) in Playa Jayuya. Photo courtesy of Alberto Mercado.

Playa Jayuya, Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve. Photo courtesy of Alberto Mercado.

Playa Jayuya, Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve. Photo courtesy of Alberto Mercado.

With daily observations we began to see Jayuya Beach as a sanctuary for hundreds of organisms that are naturally protected by the distance and difficulty of human access to the roads. Among these organisms is the American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates), which is commonly seen during the morning and early afternoon. The presence of the Oystercatchers on this beach provides us with information on the health of the ecosystems present on the area.

According to a study published in 2011, the American Oystercatcher is a key bird that helps us understand the integrity of coastal ecosystems because it depends directly on eating marine invertebrates and their responses to anthropogenic and natural pressures are well known [1]. The study concludes that Oystercatchers are the birds most affected by acidification of the ocean, sea level increase, overfishing, human disturbances, presence of invasive species, changes in freshwater flow, and alterations or loss of coastal areas. This means that the difficult access to Jayuya Beach limits fishing so Oystercatchers can feed freely on all marine invertebrates that cover the beach rocks. In addition, there are very few people who visit this beach so there is neither constant noise nor direct human disturbances affecting the species.

On the other hand, although the study suggests that Oystercatcher nests can be affected by the presence of invasive species (such as dogs and cats), there is no documentation of a negative effect on Jayuya Beach despite the observed presence of dogs in the area.
In Puerto Rico, the population of American Oystercatchers is classified in some guides as least common[2] and it is believed that the population on the island is less than 200 individuals[3]. In conclusion, and following the parameters suggested in the article mentioned above, Oystercatchers indicate that the health of Jayuya Beach is in good condition.

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[1] Ogden, J.C., et al., Waterbirds as indicators of ecosystem health in the coastal marine habitats of southern Florida: 1. Selection and justification for a suite of indicator species. Ecol. Indicat. (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2014.03.007

[2] Oberle, M. (2003). Puerto Rico’s Birds in Photographs (Vol. 2). Editorial Humanitas.

[3] Sociedad Ornitológica de Puerto Rico Inc. . (2005, Enero-Marzo). avesdepuertorico.org. Retrieved julio 11, 2014, from El Bien-te-veo: http://www.avesdepuertorico.org/boletines/enero_2005.pdf