Hierarchical Spatial Structure in Soft-Bottom Mussel Beds

Student Authors

Benjamin M. Grupe: Class of 2003

Document Type


Publication Date



Environmental Studies


Mussels (Mytilus edulis L.) are unusual because they thrive in both rocky shore and soft-bottom habitats. Despite their ecological and economic importance, little is known about their spatial structure. Mussels do not generally recruit to bare soft substrate because larvae and postlarvae cannot attach to a bottom of small sediment particles. They attach to hard objects on the sediment surface (especially other mussels), so soft-bottom mussel beds may be spatially organized in ways that are fundamentally different from those on rocky shores. The purpose of our study was to characterize the scales of spatial variability for several mussel abundance parameters in soft-bottom, intertidal M. edulis beds in coastal Maine. We used a random factor nested-ANOVA design of 200 cm2 Cores within 1 m2 Quadrats within 6 m Transects within Positions within bed Sites along 70 km (euclidean distance) of the Maine coast. Based on the literature and our field observations, we hypothesized that Sites and Positions account for most of the spatial variance in soft-bottom mussel beds. We rejected this hypothesis. Sites and Positions were not important in explaining variation in total mussel density, density of new recruits, or density of larger mussels. Although most of the variance in surface silt–clay fraction did occur at these levels, most mussel variation occurred at smaller spatial scales, specifically at the Quadrat scale for new recruits and total mussels and at the Transect scale for larger mussels. Variance in mussel parameters was not closely linked to the silt–clay fraction of surface sediment or to Site rankings of wind exposure and tidal flow. Variance in total mussel density was due primarily to variance in recruitment. No single scale explained more than about half the mussel variance, and no single scale was best at explaining all the mussel parameters. Greater knowledge about mussel bed spatial variability would be useful because it can help direct scale-dependent sampling regimes, field experiments, and coastal management practices.


Original version is available from the publisher at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022098105005976

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