Ecologists Say New England Wild Blue Mussel Population Declining

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Wild Blue Mussels Are Disappearing in the Gulf of Maine

A new study revealed that numbers of wild blue mussels are disappearing from the Gulf of Maine coastline.

This key finding was reported by a team of ecologists from the University of California, Irvine, who conducted the study.

Cascade Sorte, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCI, worked with colleagues from around the U.S. Sorte reported that wild blue mussel numbers declined by more than 60 percent along the gulf coastline. This coastline stretches from Cape Cod north to the Canadian border. Sadly, the wild blue mussels now cover less than 15 percent of the Gulf of Maine coastline.

This key result was based on contemporary survey data with 40 years of historical benchmarks.

Suspected Causes of the Decline

The study ruled out two suspected reasons for the decline of the wild blue mussel numbers. These are warming oceans and increased human harvesting.

Mortality rates of the mussels could be caused by elevated air and water temperatures that push the mussels out of their comfort zone and heightening physiological stress.

The Earth is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis,” Sorte said, “and the Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest-warming areas of the global ocean, so the impacts of ocean warming are likely to happen much sooner there.”

What Can be Done to Save the Wild Blue Mussel from Disappearing

According to Sorte, more research that involves monitoring physiological stress levels and mortality rates in the mussels, along with harvesting practices is crucial to fully understand what’s causing the decline and where their parent populations are.

In addition, these findings could guide future management decisions about conservation actions, such as protecting the most important parent populations.

Role of Blue Mussels in Oceans

Wild blue mussels play an important role as filter feeders, removing bacteria, heavy metals and toxins from the water.

The mussels are considered foundation species in the intertidal community that create habitat and enlarge the diversity of life supported by a locale.

Their decline is of great concern as well. Sorte said. The decline of the blue mussels could precipitate “cascading extinctions” among other species.

The researchers note that the loss of mussels is coinciding with a restructuring of the intertidal community.

A blue mussel clings to a rock at Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine.
A blue mussel clings to a rock at Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.