Publications

Blue mussel (Mytilus edulis L.) association with conspecifics affects mussel size selection by the common seastar (Asterias rubens L.)

Agüera, Antonio; Jansen, Jeroen M.; Smaal, Aad C.

Summary

Prey selection by predators is of interest to community ecologists. By choosing some prey over others, predators affect prey population dynamics and the strength of food webs. According to Optimal Diet Theory (ODT), as prey density increases predators will select more profitable prey. Thereby, prey population dynamics can also affect predator behaviour. Prey profitability involves the prey energetic value, energetic costs associated to predation (time spent searching, capturing and handling prey) and certain characteristics such as body size, abundance and behaviour. We examined the effect of the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) association with conspecifics at different densities on prey selection and behaviour by the seastar Asterias rubens. Contrary to ODT prediction, when mussels were tightly clumped in high densities, the size range of the mussels consumed by A. rubens did not differ of the size range of the mussel population. Mussel association at high density caused seastars to feed locally, reducing their exposition to risks. Moreover, preying without selecting for a specific mussel size did not result in a decrease of net profit, rather it was increased. We concluded that under certain circumstances, not selecting prey results in an increase of net profit at prey size. We discuss our results in the context of the mussel industry where the effect of prey selection on the prey population dynamics is of importance. Mussel size selection by seastars, as described in previous works, will impact the size distribution of mussels within cultured populations affecting growth of the population and reproductive output among others, thus increasing the impact of seastar predation beyond that of just removing mussels from the population. However, this study shows that seastars prey upon availability at high densities, typically encountered in cultivated populations, and therefore their effect on mussel population is restricted to removal of mussels without affecting the size distribution of the population.