Assessing the potential benthic-pelagic coupling in episodic blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) settlement events within eelgrass (Zostera marina) communities

Paul A.X. Bologna, Michele L. Fetzer, Sean McDonnell, Erin M. Moody

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Coastal marine seagrass ecosystems are important nursery grounds for commercially and recreationally important species, and they serve as key settlement and recruitment sites for other species. We investigated several years (2001-2003) where episodic settlement events of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) occurred in Barnegat Bay, NJ, USA. Population assessment indicated that blue mussels settled in eelgrass beds (Zostera marina) in late spring with peak densities exceeding 170,000 m-2. Based on calculated filtration rates of M. edulis, we determined that for at least 53 days in 2001, the density and size distribution of M. edulis were sufficient to filter the water column volume in excess of twice a day, with maximum calculated filtration rates exceeding 8 m3 water m-2 day-1. While the settlement event in 2001 was very localized, in 2003, the settlement event was considerably more widespread throughout the bay, with maximum settling densities exceeding 175,000 individuals m-2. Associated with these high densities, maximum calculated filtration rates exceeded 15 m3 water m-2 day-1. This filtration potential may have impeded the localized development of a brown-tide (Aureococcus anophagefferens) bloom in 2001, which occurred in other regions of the bay, but the widespread settlement event seen in 2003 may have impeded the development of any brown-tide blooms in Barnegat Bay during that summer. The decline in mussel densities throughout the summer may be a result of elevated water temperatures in this back bay, but at one site, the high settlement of M. edulis was followed by a substantial migration (>40 individuals m-2) of small sea stars (Asterias forbesii). In 2001, A. forbesii was a significant factor in reducing M. edulis density by the end of the summer at the Barnegat Inlet site and a community level assessment showed significant positive correlations between mussel aggregations and sea star densities (r=0.68-0.73, P<0.001). At this same site in 2003, the sea stars were again present in high densities (26 m-2) and were a potential mechanism for mussel decline. In other regions of the bay, sea star densities are very low, but numerous other predatory species exist, including blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), green crabs (Carcinus maenus), spider crabs (Libinia spp.), and several Xanthid crabs. Given the high mussel densities seen in this study and the considerable predation by sea stars and other benthic predators, the benthic-pelagic coupling which these mussels provide in this system contributes to the high secondary production in these grass beds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-131
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 21 Mar 2005


  • Asterias forbesii
  • Benthic-pelagic coupling
  • Blue mussel
  • Eelgrass
  • Mytilus edulis
  • Zostera marina


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