The fibrous threads helping mussels stay anchored – in spite of waves that sometimes pound the shore with a force equivalent to a jet liner flying at 600 miles per hour – are more prone to snap when ocean temperatures climb higher than normal.
Emily Carrington, a University of Washington professor of biology, reported Saturday (Feb. 16) that the fibrous threads she calls “nature’s bungee cords” become 60 percent weaker in water that was 15 degrees F (7 C) above typical summer temperatures where the mussels were from. She spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.
“Conditions that harm mussel populations affect commercial growers and, because mussels are at the foundation of the marine food web, also deprive predators such as crabs, lobsters and sea anemones of food,” Carrington said.
Such research might one day help natural resources managers in Washington, where Carrington’s work was done, and elsewhere estimate future abundance correctly and recognize areas with conditions most favorable to mussel survival. It might lead commercial growers to breed resistant varieties or be on the lookout to invest in the most promising locations for the future.