US tab

Cold Temperature Effects on Byssal Thread
Production by the Native Mussel Geukensia demissa
versus the Non-Native Mussel Mytella charruana

By: Sasha Brodsky | Mentors: Dr. Linda Walters, Dr. Kimberly Schneider, and Dr. Eric Hoffman


Invasive species pose numerous ecological and economic threats (Vitousek et al. 1996, Pimentel et al. 2005). Ecologically, they may induce changes in existing ecosystems via competition or by predator-prey interactions (Vitousek et al. 1996). These factors can have negative impacts on the ecosystem and may result in the displacement of native species (Townsend 1996, Holway 1999, Pimentel et al. 2005, Mooney et al. 2005). The zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, for example, has outcompeted and displaced native mussel species in the Great Lakes area (Wilson 1999). Indeed, approximately 42% of species listed as "threatened" and "endangered" are thought to be threatened as a consequence of interactions with non-native species (Wilcove et al. 1998, Pimentel et al. 2005). Invasive species are also well known for their economic costs, which are estimated to be $120 billion per year in the United States (Pimentel et al. 2005). These costs include repairing damage caused by invasive species as well as eradication and control (Pimentel et al. 2005).

Invasive species may be introduced by several means. They may be intentionally or unintentionally released from domestic aquaria (Verlaque and Fritayre 1994, Whitfield et al. 2002, Semmens et al. 2004). One example of this type of introduction is the Indo-Pacific lionfish, Pterois volitans, which has invaded the western Atlantic Ocean (Whitfield et al. 2002). This species has significantly reduced native reef fish populations, including species that control seaweed overgrowth on corals (Albins and Hixon 2008). The intentional release of invasive species for ornamental purposes is another method of introduction, as seen with the Brazilian pepper tree Schinus terebinthifolius (Morton 1978, Curnutt 1989). This South American plant has spread throughout peninsular Florida and displaced native plants due to its dense stands and allelopathic properties (Morgan and Overholt 2005, Donnelly et al. 2008, Florida Department of Environmental Protection 2009). A third leading cause of invasions is via the ballast water of ships, which unintentionally transports many marine invasive species, including planktonic and fouling benthic species (Williams et al. 1988, Hicks and Tunnell 1995). The introduced charru mussel Mytella charruana (d' Orbigny, 1846), which is the focus of this study, is thought to have been transported in this way (Lee 1987, Boudreaux and Walters 2006).

Mytella charruana is a marine mussel native to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America (Keen 1971, Carlton 1992, Szefer et al. 1998, Boehs et al, 2004, Boudreaux and Walters 2006). It has a light green to black shell, and reaches up to 46 mm in length (Keen 1971, Szefer et al. 1998, Pereira et al. 2003). It also has a unique capability to change sex, which has not been observed in G. demissa, a native mussel that inhabits areas where M. charruana has been introduced (Stenyakina et al. 2010). Mytella charruana was first introduced to the United States in Jacksonville, Florida in 1986 and was found clogging intake pipes of a power plant generator (Lee 1987). In 2004, this species appeared on reefs of the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica in central Florida (Boudreaux and Walters 2006). Mytella charruana has since been found along the Atlantic coast from Jupiter, Florida, to South Carolina, and is currently known to occur from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to northern Georgia (Gillis et al. 2009, Spinuzzi et al. 2010). This species has also been found fouling a variety of manmade and natural substrates (Boudreaux and Walters 2006). To predict M. charruana's potential distribution, we previously examined the temperature limits for survival of this species. Through a series of experiments, we found the thermal minimum for M. charruana to be between 6-9° C and the thermal maximum between 31- 36° C (Brodsky et al. 2009). During these temperature trials, we noticed that at lower temperatures (9 and 11° M. charruana survived (21%) after two weeks but were not actively producing byssal threads.

Byssal threads are produced by the foot of a mussel, which releases an aromatic protein compound that hardens on contact with water or a substrate (Van Winkle Jr. 1970). This creates a strong attachment that can be detached and reproduced when necessary (Yonge 1949). The production of these threads can be a determining factor for the establishment of mussels in certain habitats (Van Winkle Jr. 1970, Mackie 1991). As Mackie (1991) noted of the zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, the tight attachment afforded by byssal threads can also be used as a means of defense against predators. Byssal thread attachment is especially important in areas of high water motion, where competition for space may be intense (Bell and Gosline 1996). For these reasons, we suggest that the production of byssal threads is important for the establishment and maintenance of mussel communities. Several factors such as salinity, temperature, tidal regime, seasonality, and agitation may affect the formation of byssal threads (Van Winkle Jr. 1970, Young 1985, Clarke and McMahon 1996, Rajagopal et al. 1996, Masilamoni et al. 2002). It has been observed that byssal thread formation in mussels (Dreissena polymorpha, Brachidontes striatulus, Mytilus edulis) decreases when approaching lethal temperature limits (Van Winkle Jr. 1970, Rajagopal et al. 1996, Masilamoni et al. 2002).

One trait common to many successful invasive organisms is the capability to survive in a wide range of physical conditions (Morton 1997, Marchetti et al. 2004, Rajagopal et al. 2006). Therefore, an assessment of physiological tolerance limits is essential because it aids in predicting where invasive species may be able to disperse and colonize (Whitfield et al. 2002, Kimball et al. 2004). Many studies of physiological limits have focused on lethal environmental parameters, such as lethal temperature (Storey and Churchill 1995, Masilamoni et al. 2002, Kimball et al. 2004, Jost and Helmuth 2007). However, limits that coincide with functional ability (e.g., growth, reproduction) of a species are also important determinants of distribution. For example, Kimball et al. (2004) found that the mean lethal minimum temperature for the lionfish (Pterois volitans/ miles complex) was 10° C, but the mean minimum temperature for feeding was 16.1° C. Although the thermal limits for survival of M. charruana are between 9-31° C in a laboratory setting (Brodsky et al. 2009), the environmental limits at which important functions such as growth, feeding, and reproduction become impaired are unclear.

In addition to M. charruana, we tested temperature effects on byssal thread production in G. demissa, a native species that has been found living in close proximity to introduced populations of M. charruana (S. Brodsky, pers. obs.). Geukensia demissa (Dillwyn, 1817) is a large mussel species (up to 100 mm in length) that is distinguishable from M. charruana by its ribbed, dark brown shell (Coen and Walters 2006). It is native to the North American Atlantic coast from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to central Florida, a distribution which overlaps with M. charruana's current introduced range (Knopf 1981, Cohen 2005, Boudreaux and Walters 2006, Coen and Walters 2006, Gillis et al. 2009). Coinciding with its large geographical range, G. demissa tolerates temperatures ranging from 0° C to approximately 45° C (Storey and Churchill 1995, Jost and Helmuth 2007). Geukensia demissa is a fundamental component of salt marsh and oyster reef communities, where it is often found in syntopy with M. charruana (Bertness 1984, Coen and Luckenbach 2000, Meyer and Townsend 2000, Coen and Walters 2006, Boudreaux and Walters 2006). For these reasons, we tested G. demissa in addition to M. charruana. The focus of this study was to investigate the effects of environmental stress on byssal thread production, which is important for the attachment of mussels to a substrate, and also an easily measured and quantified parameter (Van Winkle Jr. 1970, Mackie 1991, Bell and Gosline 1996). The goal of this project was to determine cold temperature effects on byssal thread production of both M. charruana and G. demissa to better understand how both species respond to low temperatures. We accomplished this objective by manipulating water temperature and counting the number of byssal threads produced.

Methods >>