Dwarfism of blue mussels in the low saline Baltic Sea — growth to the lower salinity limit

Hans Ulrik Riisgård, Poul Scheel Larsen, Raisa Turja, Kim Lundgreen

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Mussels within the Baltic Mytilus edulis × M. trossulus hybrid zone have adapted to the low salinities in the Baltic Sea which, however, results in slow-growing dwarfed mussels. To get a better understanding of the nature of dwarfism, we studied the ability of M. trossulus to feed and grow at low salinity (7 psu) compared with its performance at relatively high-salinity (20 psu) in controlled laboratory experiments, supplemented with field (Great Belt) growth experiments with M. trossulus and M. edulis in net-bags. Subsequently, the growth of M. trossulus transplanted in cages to various localities in the northern Baltic Sea was used to evaluate the effect of very low salinities, down to 3.4 psu. The laboratory feeding experiments with M. trossulus at 7 psu showed that the growth in shell length was negligible, whereas the body dry weight nearly doubled during the 15 d experiment, with a weight-specific growth rate of 3.7% d−1. The same parameters measured at 20 psu showed a pronounced growth in both shell length and body dry weight, with a weight-specific growth rate of 2.2% d−1. The growth rates of M. trossulus and M. edulis in suspended net-bags in the Great Belt (22 psu) were similar: 5.6 and 6.8% d−1, respectively. M. trossulus in cage experiments had positive growth rates at locations with salinities above 4.5 psu, up to 2.60% d−1, but negligible increase in the shell length, and at sites with salinities below about 4.5 psu, the somatic growth was negative, around −0.3% d−1, which indicates valve closure and respiratory weight loss. A trend line in a plot of all available growth data for both mussel species as a function of salinity indicates that the growth of mussels is steadily hampered by reduced salinities from 30 psu down to about 10 psu, below which the growth is rapidly reduced to become negative below 4.5 psu. We suggest that reduced ability to produce shell material at extremely low salinity may explain dwarfism of mussels in the Baltic Sea. Reduced bio-calcification at low salinity, however, may impede shell growth, but not somatic growth, and this may at first result in an increased condition index, as seen in the benthic Baltic Sea mussels transferred to cages suspended in the water column.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology - Progress Series
Pages (from-to)181–192
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Mytilus edulis
  • Mytilus trossulus
  • Filtration rate
  • Specific growth rate
  • Adaptation
  • Effect of salinity
  • Condition index
  • Bio Energetic Growth (BEG) model

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