, Volume 3, Issue 3-4, pp 317-350

The ecology of Mytilus edulis L. (Lamellibranchiata) on exposed rocky shores

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Summary

Growth studies in M. edulis L. have shown that rates vary considerably according to age, size and environmental conditions. This may in part be attributed to its sessile habit, being unable to move away from the variable external conditions.

The use of modal length frequency distributions is somewhat limited, since with three or more year groups represented, the growth of the majority of the population is so slow that individual year classes lose their identity. Growth boxes, containing marked animals of different ages, and set out in a variety of habitats gave information regarding local and seasonal growth rates. Disturbance rings were shown to be annual, and from them growth curves have been constructed.

Growth is particularly seasonal, little or none occurring during the winter. Growth rates varied considerably with a variety of environmental factors (both biotic and physical) and some of these are discussed. Variable individual growth rates, together with slow growth of the majority of animals in mixed populations, are perhaps the major factors in producing population structures typical of this species on open shores.

Survivorship curves for mussels in a variety of habitats have been constructed by following the survival of groups of marked animals. Whilst high mortalities occurred in the mid and low shore, survival in the upper shore in the absence of major predators, was greatly enhanced, resulting in established populations of considerable age. Periods of maximum mortality during spring and summer could be correlated with the abundance of major predators.

The almost cosmopolitan distribution of M. edulis in the N. hemisphere has been made possible by virtue of its high reproductive capacity, successful larval dispersion and wide tolerance of environmental conditions, Its patchy and apparently erratic distribution both from one shore to annother and even on the same shore, is greatly influenced by the local and seasonal abundance of major predators. Whilst the upward extension of mussels is prevented, ultimately, by physical factors (e.g. temperature, dessication), its lower limits (and absence from the shallow sub littoral on many shores) are governed essentially by predators. The upward extension of many predators such as crabs or starfish, resulting in locally intense predation, may in turn be partly influenced by the actual topography of the shore itself.