Selective byssus attachment behavior of mytilid mussels from hard- and soft-bottom coastal systems

Moisés A. Aguilera, Martin Thiel, Niklas Ullrich, Guillermo Luna-Jorquera, Christian Buschbaum

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13 Scopus citations


In both sedimentary and rocky coastal habitats, epibenthic mytilid mussels use byssal threads for attachment to the substratum and to form beds with high densities of individuals. Number and attachment strength of byssal threads can be adjusted according to external factors such as hydrodynamic forces or predators, but it is unknown whether mytilid mussels distinguish between substrata of different quality for byssus attachment in different habitat types. In field studies, we examined the attachment strength of the mussel Perumytilus purpuratus growing on Pacific hard- and soft-bottom shores in Chile and of the blue mussel Mytilus edulis from an Atlantic rocky shore in France and a sedimentary shore in the North Sea (Germany), respectively. In additional laboratory experiments, we studied mussel substratum selectivity of both bivalve species from soft and hard bottoms by offering living versus dead, barnacle-fouled vs. unfouled, and firmly attached vs. loose conspecifics. In the field, attachment strength of P. purpuratus on hard bottoms was substantially higher than on soft bottoms even though mussels produced more byssus in the latter habitat. In contrast, blue mussels M. edulis showed only a slightly reduced attachment strength on soft compared to hard bottoms. In the soft-bottom habitat, fouled individuals from the edge of a blue mussel bed were especially strongly attached. In the byssus attachment behavior experiments, P. purpuratus from both habitats showed a significant preference for living conspecifics and those from soft bottoms preferred firmly attached conspecifics. Blue mussels had no preference for particular conspecifics except those from soft-bottom habitats, which preferred fouled over clean mussels. In general, in the choice experiments hard-bottom M. edulis produced more byssus. Our results confirmed that mytilid mussels may show active substratum choice for byssus attachment, which depends on mussel species and habitat type. The results suggest that mussels are adapted to a particular habitat type, with P. purpuratus showing lower adaptation to soft-bottom areas while M. edulis shows successful strategies for both environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-70
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Attachment strength
  • Byssus production
  • Mytilid mussels
  • Selective behavior
  • Substratum choice


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