, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 192-204

Population dynamics of the ribbed mussel, Geukensia demissa: The costs and benefits of an aggregated distribution

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Summary

Although mussel beds are common in many intertidal habitats, the ecological significance of the aggregated distribution of mussels has not been examined. The ribbed mussel, Geukensia demissa, is found in dense aggregations on the seaward margin of many salt marshes in New England. Here, we examine the population structure of G. demissa in a New England salt marsh and investigate experimentally the costs and benefits of aggregation.

Size, growth rate, and settlement rates of mussels decrease with increasing tidal height, whereas survivorship and longevity increase with increasing tidal height. Winter ice dislodges mussels from the substratum, resulting in mortality over all size classes, whereas crab predation results in the mortality of smaller mussels. The intensity of each of these mortality agents decreases with increasing tidal height. Effects of intraspecific competition on individual growth and mortality also decrease with increasing tidal height.

At high densities, individual growth rates were reduced, with depression of growth rates most pronounced on smaller individuals. Mortality from sources other than intraspecific crowding, however, was reduced at high mussel densities, including mortality due to winter ice and crab predators. As a result, our data suggest that the mussel population at our study site would be reduced by 90% in only five years and no juveniles would survive through their second year without an aggregated distribution.

Juveniles settle gregariously with or without adults present. The aggregated distribution of settlers and the postsettlement movement of smaller mussels to favorable microhabitats result in size and age class segregation within the population. This probably reduces intraspecific competition for food, while maintaining the survivorship advantages of an aggregated distribution.