Sand stress as a non-determinant of habitat segregation of indigenous (Perna perna) and invasive (Mytilus galloprovincialis) mussels in South Africa
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Periodical sand inundation influences diversity and distribution of intertidal species throughout the world. This study investigates the effect of sand stress on survival and on habitat segregation of the two dominant mussel species living in South Africa, the invasive Mytilus galloprovincialis and the indigenous Perna perna. P. perna occupies a lower intertidal zone which, monthly surveys over 1.5 years showed, is covered by sand for longer periods than the higher M. galloprovincialis zone. Despite this, when buried under sand, P. perna mortality rates were significantly higher than those of M. galloprovincialis in both laboratory and in field experiments. Under anoxic condition, P. perna mortality rates were still significantly higher than those for M. galloprovincialis, but both species died later than when exposed to sand burial, underlining the importance of the physical action of sand on mussel internal organs. When buried, both species accumulate sediments within the shell valves while still alive, but the quantities are much greater for P. perna. This suggests that P. perna gills are more severely damaged by sand abrasion and could explain its higher mortality rates. M. galloprovincialis has longer labial palps than P. perna, indicating a higher particle sorting ability and consequently explaining its lower mortality rates when exposed to sand in suspension. Habitat segregation is often explained by physiological tolerances, but in this case, such explanations fail. Although sand stress strongly affects the survival of the two species, it does not explain their vertical zonation. Contrary to our expectations, the species that is less well adapted to cope with sand stress maintains dominance in a habitat where such stress is high.