Marine Biology

, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 117–133 | Cite as

Growth and size structure in a baltic Mytilus edulis population

  • N. Kautsky


Since Mytilus edulis L. has very few predators and competitors for space, it has become a biomass dominant in the Baltic proper covering hard substrates from the water surface to more than 30 m depth. In order to investigate the factors controlling size and production in a Baltic M. edulis population, growth was studied by the analysis of annual growth rings, measurements of caged individuals and the analysis of size classes in the population, and on settlement ropes. The total number of mussels in a representative mussel bed at 4 m depth varied between 36 000 and 158 000 ind · m-2 during the year, mainly due to variations in very small mussels (<2 mm), whereas the abundance of mussels ≧2mm was rather constant between about 17 000 and 28 000 ind · m-2. Maximum numbes of mussels < 2 mm, amounting to 132 000 ind · m-2, were found after settlement in summer, but still half a year later in spring, 65 000 ind · m-2 < 2 mm were registered, due to very strong intraspecific competition for food and space leading to the competitive suppression of small individuals and large variations in growth rates. Due to the special size-structure of the population only the analysis of annual growth rings could be used to estimate natural shell growth. From being very low in the smallest mussels, growth was linear between about 2–10 yr of age, corresponding to about 3–20 mm length, after which it decreased with a L=32 mm. Over the linear interval, growth in the populations from 3–6 m and 10–15m depth was 3.1 and 2.2 mm · yr-1, respectively. Meat growth showed strong annual variations mainly due to gonad production. Starving mussels could, however, while utilizing energy reserves, survive losses of up to 78% of their meat biomass. This ability of M. edulis to “respire away its own biomass” and its apparent tolerance of weight loss has important implication. It will drastically reduce the energy flow to destruents from mussels dying naturally, which is of special significance in the Baltic, where predators and scavengers are scarce. It enables the mussels to endure bad food conditions and buffer strong seasonal variations in food abundance, maintaining the strongly food-and space-limited Baltic M. edulis population at the carrying capacity of the area.


Biomass Intraspecific Competition Hard Substrate Mytilus Edulis Shell Growth 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Kautsky
    • 1
  1. 1.Askö Laboratory, Institute of Marine EcologyUniversity of StockholmStockholmSweden

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