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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 573:167-175 (2017)  -  DOI:

Predator-induced shell plasticity in mussels hinders predation by drilling snails

Zachary T. Sherker, Julius A. Ellrich, Ricardo A. Scrosati*

Department of Biology, St. Francis Xavier University, 2320 Notre Dame Avenue, Antigonish, Nova Scotia B2G 2W5, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sessile invertebrate prey that detect waterborne predator cues often respond by strengthening their structural defenses. Experimental evidence of the functional significance of such modifications using field-raised organisms is lacking. This study addresses that gap using intertidal mussels and predatory dogwhelks from Atlantic Canada. During the spring and summer of 2016, we ran a field experiment that manipulated dogwhelk presence to test their nonconsumptive effects on mussel traits. Dogwhelk cues elicited thickening at the lip, centre, and base of mussel shells while simultaneously limiting shell growth in length. As shell mass was unaffected by dogwhelk presence, a trade-off between shell thickening and elongation was revealed. Thickening was most pronounced at the thinnest parts of the shell. Using the field-raised organisms, a lab experiment found that dogwhelks took, on average, 55% longer to drill and consume mussels previously exposed to dogwhelk cues than mussels grown without such a cue exposure. Dogwhelks drilled at the thinnest parts of the shell, but, nonetheless, the consumed cue-exposed mussels had thicker shells at the borehole than the consumed mussels not previously exposed to cues, which likely explains the observed difference in handling time. As handling time normally decreases predation success, this study indicates that the plastic structural modifications in mussels triggered by dogwhelk cues in the field hinder predation by these drilling predators.

KEY WORDS: Dogwhelk · Intertidal · Mussel · Mytilus edulis · Mytilus trossulus · Nonconsumptive predator effect · Nucella lapillus · Phenotypic plasticity · Predation risk

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Cite this article as: Sherker ZT, Ellrich JA, Scrosati RA (2017) Predator-induced shell plasticity in mussels hinders predation by drilling snails. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 573:167-175.

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