Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Biological consequences of ice rafting in a New England salt marsh community


Ice rafting of salt marsh peat is a recurrent phenomenon in north temperate regions. This process was simulated in a northern New England salt marsh to test several hypotheses concerning the effects of peat transport from high to low intertidal heights on the growth and mortality of key sessile organisms: the ribbed mussel Geukensia demissa (Dillwyn), the fucoid alga Fucus vesiculosus L. var. spiralis (Farlow) and the cordgrass Spartina alterniflora (Loisel.). Growth rates increased when Geukensia and Fucus were transported to the lower intertidal; however, Spartina died when similarly transported. Predation pressure (primarily from Carcinus maenus L.) on Geukensia was greater when it was rafted to the lower intertidal zone than in the upper intertidal habitat and was size specific; mussels >3.5cm reached a size-escape from crab predation.

A winter survey of dislodged mussels revealed that 72% of the mussels collected were dead and 86% had been overgrown by large Fucus plants, >2.5 × the natural frequency of Fucus overgrowth (32%). In marsh habitats where hard substratum is rare, 91% of the Fucus were growing on Geukensia. A dislodgement experiment showed that a significantly greater percentage of Geukensia was dislodged after ice-out when Fucus was attached to the shell than those mussels without Fucus overgrowth. In the spring, a population survey conducted in the salt marsh examined densities, biomass and population structure of Geukensia, as well as densities, percent cover and biomass of Fucus. Values obtained in the foremarsh were compared to those from the peat islands recently rafted to the tidal flats. Both biomass and densities of Geukensia were similar in the two areas; however, the size-frequency distributions of the mussels were different. Since fewer large mussels, Fucus and Fucus-overgrown mussels were found on the newly transported peat islands, this pattern appears to reflect dislodgement of larger Geukensia by attached algae during ice transport. Two ice-related sources of mortality were identified for Geukensia: (1) Fucus overgrowth acted as a vector for mussel dislodgement and was an indirect source of mortality; and (2) ice crushing was a direct source of mortality for non-overgrown mussels.

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Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology

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Copyright © 1985 Published by Elsevier B.V.