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Variability of Mya arenaria growth along an environmental gradient in the Plum Island Sound estuary, Massachusetts, USA


An understanding of the environmental factors that determine how clam growth varies in space and time improves effective mariculture and shellfish management. We examined the importance of temperature, salinity and chlorophyll-a in controlling the spatial pattern of Mya arenaria growth, the commercially important soft-shell clam, in the Plum Island Sound estuary in northeastern Massachusetts, USA. We collected clams (>5.08 cm) monthly during the April to November growing season from which we determined growth rate, maximum size (L-infinity), and time to reach a harvestable size. We also surveyed selected sites along the estuary to estimate the relationship between clam size and weight. We collected environmental data along the estuary, and our data were complemented with data collected and maintained by the Plum Island ecosystems long-term ecological research project. Clams reached harvestable size fastest and had the greatest L-infinity at the most oceanic site (Yacht Club) in the estuary. Clams had the smallest L-infinity and were slowest to reach the harvestable size at the least oceanic site (Railroad Meander). The spatial patterns of clam growth were best explained by a positive distribution of salinity. Salinity significantly accounted for 95 % of the spatial variation of clam growth in the estuary. Snow melt in spring increases freshwater input to the estuary and results in the lowest spring salinity during a year, and this explained the upper estuary limit of clam distribution. IPCC-projected climate change will cause sea-level rise and increasing precipitation in the northeastern USA, which will modify the spatial pattern of salinity in the region’s estuaries. Our research therefore suggests that future management of M. arenaria, an important economic resource for the local economy, should be concerned with the changes of salinity distribution under climate and land-use change.

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We would like to thank Jack Grundstrom, the Town of Rowley shellfish commissioner, and his commercial clammer son, John Grundstrom, for their help throughout the planning and field trip portions of this project. We also thank the Plum Island Sound LTER (PIE-LTER) for help with field logistics.


The program was funded by the NSF CNH and LTER programs (BCS-0709685 and OCE 1238212).

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Correspondence to Kyung Ah Koo.

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Koo, K.A., Walker, R.L., Davenport, E.S. et al. Variability of Mya arenaria growth along an environmental gradient in the Plum Island Sound estuary, Massachusetts, USA. Wetlands Ecol Manage 25, 235–256 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-016-9512-0

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  • Mya arenaria
  • Clam growth
  • Environmental gradient
  • Spatial variation
  • Plum Island Sound estuary