University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Population dynamics of blue mussels in a variable environment at the edge of their range
Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
Spatial and temporal variation in the abundance of species can often be ascribed to spatial and temporal variation in the surrounding environment. Knowledge of how biotic and abiotic factors operate over different spatial and temporal scales in determining distribution, abundance, and structure of populations lies at the heart of ecology. The major part of the current ecological theory stems from studies carried out in central parts of the distributional range of species, whereas knowledge of how marginal populations function is inadequate. Understanding how marginal populations, living at the edge of their range, function is however in a key position to advance ecology and evolutionary biology as scientific disciplines.
My thesis focuses on the factors affecting dynamics of marginal populations of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) living close to their tolerance limits with regard to salinity. The thesis aims to highlight the dynamics at the edge of the range and contrast these with dynamics in more central parts of the range in order to understand the potential interplay between the central and the marginal part in the focal system. The objectives of the thesis are approached by studies on: (1) factors affecting regional patterns of the species, (2) long-term temporal dynamics of the focal species spaced along a regional salinity gradient, (3) selective predation by increasing populations of roach (Rutilus rutilus) when feeding on their main food item, the blue mussel, (4) the primary and secondary effects of local wave exposure gradients and (5) the role of small-scale habitat heterogeneity as determinants of large-scale pattern.
The thesis shows that populations of blue mussels are largely determined by large scale changes in sea water salinity, affecting mainly recruitment success and longevity of local populations. In opposite to the traditional view, the thesis strongly indicate that vertebrate predators strongly affect abundance and size structure of blue mussel populations, and that the role of these predators increases towards the margin - where populations are increasingly top-down controlled. The thesis also indicates that the positive role of biogenic habitat modifiers increases towards the marginal areas, where populations of blue mussels are largely recruitment limited. Finally, the thesis shows that local blue mussel populations are strongly dependent on high water turbulence, and therefore, dense populations are constrained to offshore habitats. Finally, the thesis suggests that ongoing sedimentation of rocky shores is detrimental for the species, affecting recruitment success and post-recruit survival, pushing stable mussel beds towards offshore areas. Ongoing large scale changes in the Baltic Sea, especially dilution processes with attendant effects, are predicted to substantially contract the distributional range of the mussel, but also affect more central populations. The thesis shows that in order to understand the functioning of marginal populations, research should (1) strive for multi-scale approaches in order to link ecosystem patterns with ecosystem processes, and (2) challenge the prevailing tenets that origin from research carried out in central areas that may not be valid at the edge.
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Last updated 02.11.2006