, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 135-143

Wadden Sea mussel beds invaded by oysters and slipper limpets: competition or climate control?

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Abstract

Introduced species are often considered to be a threat to residents, but not all reciprocal trends may reflect species interaction. In the northern German Wadden Sea, native mussel Mytilus edulis beds are declining and overgrown by introduced Pacific oysters Crassostrea gigas and slipper limpets Crepidula fornicata. We review the population development of the three species and analyse whether the invading species may be responsible for the decline of native mussels. The Pacific oyster predominately settles on mussel beds in the intertidal and the slipper limpet dominates around low water line. We compare the development of mussels and invaders in two subregions: mussel beds near the islands of Sylt and Amrum decreased both in the presence (Sylt) and absence (Amrum) of the two invading species and more detailed investigations could not confirm a causal relationship between the increasing invaders and decreasing mussel beds. There is evidence that the decline of mussel beds is mainly caused by failing spatfall possibly due to mild winters, whereas the increase in slipper limpets and oysters is facilitated by mild winters and warm summers, respectively. We conclude that changing species composition is a result of the climatic conditions in the last decade and that there is no evidence yet that the exotic species caused the decline of the natives. It remains an open question whether the species shift will continue and what the consequences for the native ecosystem will be.

Communicated by K. Reise