Open Access

Juvenile-adult distribution of the bivalve Mya arenaria on intertidal flats in the Wadden Sea: why are there so few year classes?

  • M. Strasser,
  • M. Walensky and
  • K. Reise
Helgoland Marine Research53:90530045.10152


Patchy distribution is frequently observed in benthic marine invertebrates. In order to indentify factors causing spatial patterns in the bivalve Mya arenaria, abundances of juveniles and adults, as well as death assemblages, were recorded on a 20-km scale in the intertidal zone of the Sylt-Rømø Bight. Both adults and juveniles exhibited pronounced patchiness. Shell length of juveniles rarely exceeded 2 mm in 1995, which was most likely a consequence of epibenthic predators truncating the size spectrum. Only a few yearclasses dominated the adult population. While the northern part of the Bight was colonized mainly by a 1993-cohort, most M. arenaria in the southern part were from the mid-1980s. It is hypothesized that epibenthic predation is a major cause of the lack of dense M. arenaria beds from other years. However, examination of the length–frequency distribution of death assemblages revealed that other unidentified causes of mortality exist. High abundances of adults were found in the mid and lower intertidal zone but not in the high intertidal zone. There was no indication that dispersal of M. arenaria spat in a landward or seaward direction contributed significantly to the observed distribution pattern, since spat occurred abundantly at all tidal levels except in the high intertidal zone. There was no evidence of negative adult-juvenile interaction. M. arenaria was not attracted by seagrass or projecting shell beds – the latter indicating erosion of the sediment – as abundances of adults and juveniles were generally low in these habitats. The effects of sediment type and of the bioturbating lugworm Arenicola marina were inconsistent. While adults were more abundant on muddy sand than on sand, recruitment was independent of sediment type. At all high density sites of adults (>50 ind m–2), lugworm densities were below 5 ind m–2, which may indicate a negative interaction. However, lugworm densities >30 ind m–2 did not prevent relatively high M. arenaria recruitment of >500 ind m–2.

Key words Mya arenaria Predation Recruitment Population dynamics Patchiness