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Helgoland Marine Research

Open Access

Effects of green algal mats on bivalves in a New England mud flat

  • M. Thiel1, 2,
  • L. M. Stearns1 and
  • L. Watling1
Helgoländer Meeresuntersuchungen52:15


Concurrent with the spread of green algal mats on tidal flats, reports of macrofauna dieoffs under dense algal mats have increased in numbers. Bivalves seem to be particularly affected by persistent dense algal mats. Bivalve species with a long extendible siphon seem to be less affected underneath algal mats, but no distinction has been made in the past between species with short and those with long siphons,Mya arenaria andMacoma balthica, on an intertidal mudflat in New England. Abundances ofM. arenaria declined substantially during the study period when a thick green algal mat covered the mudflat for several months. Numbers of the small bivalveGemma gemma also decreased substantially, whereas abundances ofM. balthica showed minimal variation during the time of algal coverage. In algae removal/addition experiments numbers ofM. arenaria decreased, but effects were only significant in an algal addition to previously algal-free mudflat areas. Abundance ofM. balthica did not change significantly in the algal removal/additition experiments. Over the time period of the experiment (9 weeks),M. arenaria showed measurable size increase in uncovered mudflat areas, but not underneath algal mats. Similarly,M. balthica only increased in size in the uncovered mudflat area. From these results it is concluded thatM. balthica can survive time periods of dense algal coverage because it is able to penetrate through the algal mat with its long extendible siphon, and thus can reach well-oxygenated water layers above the mat.M. arenaria with its thick, less extendible, siphon cannot push through dense algal mats and therefore is more likely to die underneath persistent algal mats.


BivalveTidal FlatIntertidal MudflatMacoma BalthicaExtendible Siphon