MEPS 190:223-239 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps190223

Seasonal variation in food utilization by the suspension-feeding bivalve molluscs Mytilus edulis and Placopecten magellanicus

Peter J. Cranford1,*, Paul S. Hill2

1Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sciences Branch, Marine Environmental Sciences Division, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, PO Box 1006, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B2Y 4A2, Canada
2Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada

ABSTRACT: Seston utilization by adult Mytilus edulis and Placopecten magellanicus cohorts was measured using an in situ method over a total period of 139 d during the spring, summer and fall of 1995 in Bedford Basin and Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada. Daily seston utilization measurements were combined with extensive water sampling to construct predictive empirical models of bivalve ingestion based on environmental variables. Particle concentrations were highest in May in Bedford Basin (~5 mg l-1) and remained below 2 mg l-1 in Mahone Bay. Seston quality during the study varied between 30 (summer) and 90% (spring) organic content. Large seasonal changes in the rates and efficiencies of feeding and absorption were observed, but only 28% of the variance in daily ingestion rates of both species could be explained by a wide range of potential environmental influences (temperature, seston abundance and composition and vertical particle flux). Ingestion and absorption rates of scallops and mussels were highest during the spring, when diet quantity and quality were high, and during late autumn, when quantity and quality were low. These data indicate that changes in seston utilization and related growth were not caused solely by seasonal food and temperature fluctuations, but imply physiological regulation of feeding and digestion. Both species displayed a large capacity for controlling clearance and absorption rates. Clearance rates during October and November were at least twice as high as observed at other times of the year, and absorption efficiency gradually decreased at high diet quality and increased when quality was low. Temporal variations in food utilization by both species may be explained by the combined constraints on maximizing net energy gain of relatively low food availability and the seasonally changing energy demands of reproduction. The accuracy of various bivalve clearance (filtration) rate models was assessed by comparing predicted responses with average in situ clearance rate estimates. Only those models based on natural seston rations provided adequate predictions of observed clearance behaviour. Clearance rate predictions based on algal cell rations greatly overestimated in situ clearance at all times of the year and appear to be of limited application for predicting feeding activity in nature. Current theories on the ecological role of bivalve communities in coastal regions are questionable as they commonly depend on the assumption that clearance capacity is fully exploited.

KEY WORDS: Physiological ecology · Suspension-feeding · Absorption · Bivalve molluscs · Natural seston

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