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Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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Ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa) are a highly abundant bivalve filter feeder throughout the salt marshes of the U.S. Atlantic Coast. These mussels form a mutualistic relationship with smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora wherein the grass provides habitat and shade to the mussels, and the mussels stabilize the sediment and fertilize the grass. Salt marshes are, however, rapidly changing and eroding as humans modify the coast, and the rate of sea level rise is accelerating. In order to understand how ribbed mussels may respond to their changing habitat, we collected mussel density and distribution data from 30 marshes covering the range of geomorphic settings found in lower Chesapeake Bay. We used a combination of in situ and GIS-derived spatial variables to develop spatially applied models of ribbed mussel density and physical condition. Of the estimated 1.06 billion ribbed mussels in Virginia, we found that mussels were most abundant along the front edge of marshes in wide creeks, rivers, or bays with dense Spartina and minimal proximal forest, set in agriculturally dominated areas. In contrast, mussel condition was highest in fringing marshes located in narrow tidal creeks. Ribbed mussels responded to factors at a variety of scales, ranging from extremely local (0.5 m) to larger shorescapes (≥300 m). The methods that we used to create models linking both aquatic and terrestrial variables to explain the variation in ribbed mussel populations along the shoreline provide a valuable tool for identifying baselines and assessing potential for change across estuary-level spatial scales not only for ribbed mussels in the Chesapeake Bay, but also for other sessile, intertidal species in other systems.


coastal ecology; distribution; ecosystem services, ribbed mussels; exposure; fringing marshes; land use; seascape; Spartina.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ecs22449-sup-0001-appendixs1.pdf (202 kB)
Table S1 – AICc table of univariate models assessing best scale for the effects of agriculture on mussel density.

ecs22449-sup-0002-appendixs2.pdf (136 kB)