Ontogenetic changes in small-scale movement by recruits of an exploited mussel: implications for the fate of larvae settling on algae
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- Erlandsson, J., Porri, F. & McQuaid, C.D. Mar Biol (2008) 153: 365. doi:10.1007/s00227-007-0812-z
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Many South African populations of the brown mussel Perna perna have been depleted through over-exploitation by subsistence harvesters. This is problematic because recovery after disturbance is very slow, partly because recruits are largely associated with adult mussels. However, unlike large recruits of 3.5–10 mm that exhibit spatial structure related to that of adults, a very high proportion of settlers and small recruits (0–3.5 mm) occur on foliose algae. We tested the hypothesis that recruits on algae move to adult mussel beds after a period of growth, with the null hypothesis that they die at a certain size. We conducted an indirect field study comparing the ratios of large to small recruits in 100% cover mussel patches at locations with high and low algal cover. A second laboratory experiment analysed whether the size of recruits on algae affects their active movement behaviour in response to nearby mussel patches. Large/small recruit ratios were slightly, but not significantly greater in high than low algal cover locations. Both small (2–2.5 mm) and medium (4.5–5.5 mm) recruits remained on algae and moved very short distances throughout the laboratory experiment, while larger recruits (9–10 mm) moved significantly further distances and more often into mussel patches. The results suggest that very large recruits are able to migrate actively to nearby mussel patches, indicating ontogenetic shifts in this behaviour. However, the absence of a significant difference in ratios between field locations with high and low algal cover suggests many large recruits are accidentally dislodged from the algae and presumably die. Thus settlement of P. perna onto algae is likely to be wasted, with consequences for sustainable management of the mussel resource.