Marine Biology

, Volume 159, Issue 4, pp 863–872 | Cite as

Shell ecophenotype in the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) determines the spatial pattern in foraging behaviour of an oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) population

  • Alexandra ZieritzEmail author
  • Gemma Clucas
  • Lauren Axtmann
  • David C. Aldridge
Original Paper


When feeding on blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) either stab into the mollusc’s gaping valves or hammer through its dorsal or ventral shell. Whilst the selectivity of hammering and stabbing oystercatchers for specific prey morphologies has been well studied, the way in which the effects of environment on M. edulis morphology can in turn affect feeding methods of H. ostralegus is very poorly understood. Based on morphological analyses on randomly selected shells from three intertidal zones, this study failed to detect differences in morphology or distribution of dorsally and ventrally hammered shells but confirms the finding of previous authors that hammering oystercatchers select thinner mussels than stabbing birds. Additionally, we show that this difference in optimal prey morphology can lead to spatial patterns in oystercatcher feeding behaviour. Whilst at the low intertidal and higher mid intertidal zones, characterised by comparatively thick shells, most empty shells had apparently been stabbed, hammering was the dominant feeding behaviour at the lower mid intertidal zone, where shells were thinner. Preference of hammering birds for smaller mussels was not ubiquitous. Sagittal shell shape was predominantly influenced by allometric growth effects and had only minor effect on prey selection. All oystercatchers preferred less inflated mussels, with the degree of shell inflation gradually increasing with higher intertidal elevation. Our results illustrate the importance of small-scale patterns in prey ecophenotypes in determining the distribution and feeding dynamics of wading birds.


Shell Thickness Intertidal Zone Allometric Growth Feeding Type Optimal Forage Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that greatly improved the manuscript. The recently closed Wells Field Study Centre provided a much valued base and resource for this study. Its closure represents the loss of an important facility for the study of marine biology.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra Zieritz
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Gemma Clucas
    • 1
  • Lauren Axtmann
    • 1
  • David C. Aldridge
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Unit of Aquatic Systems BiologyTechnische Universität MünchenFreisingGermany

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