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Trait strengthening in mussels

Cite this dataset

Seuront, Laurent; Nicastro, Katy; McQuaid, Christopher; Zardi, Gerardo (2020). Trait strengthening in mussels [Dataset]. Dryad.


Plastic pollution is ubiquitous with increasing recognition of its direct effects on species’ fitness.  Little is known, however, about its more subtle effects, including the influence of plastic pollution on the morphological, functional and behavioural traits of organisms that are central to their ability to withstand disturbances. Among the least obvious but most pernicious forms of plastic-associated pollution are the chemicals that leach from microplastics. Here, we investigate how such leachates influence species’ traits by assessing functional trait compensation across four species of intertidal mussels, through investigations of byssal thread production, movement and aggregation behaviour for mussels held in natural seawater or seawater contaminated by microplastic leachates. We found no evidence for compensation of functional traits, but for each species, microplastic leachates reinforced one trait while others remained unaffected. Two species (Perna perna and Mytilus galloprovincialis), were characterized by a resistance strategy to disturbance; they produced more byssal threads in microplastic leachate seawater than in control seawater, while motility and aggregation remained essentially unaffected. In contrast, the other two species (M. edulis and Choromytilus meridionalis), showed a resilience strategy to disturbance through reduced motility and aggregation in leachate seawater, while byssal thread production remained unaffected. These results suggest that the competitive abilities of intertidal mussels may be related to their sensitivity to microplastic leachates or other chemical disturbance. Importantly, the trait strengthening observed will affect the ability of these mussels to form spatially patterned beds, with implications for their quality as autogenic ecological engineers or foundation species. Thus, our findings have implications for the ability of mussel beds to tolerate disturbance, and hence for central ecosystem services, such as their ability to support biodiversity and enhance secondary and tertiary production. The results suggest that an inconspicuous aspect of plastic pollution has the potential to influence other communities and ecosystems in powerful ways.