Blue mussel shell shape plasticity and natural environments: a quantitative approach17 Jan 2018
Shape variability represents an important direct response of organisms to selective environments. Here, we use a combination of geometric morphometrics and generalised additive mixed models (GAMMs) to identify spatial patterns of natural shell shape variation in the North Atlantic and Arctic blue mussels, Mytilus edulis and M. trossulus, with environmental gradients of temperature, salinity and food availability across 3980 km of coastlines. New statistical methods and multiple study systems at various geographical scales allowed the uncoupling of the developmental and genetic contributions to shell shape and made it possible to identify general relationships between blue mussel shape variation and environment that are independent of age and species influences. We find salinity had the strongest effect on the latitudinal patterns of Mytilus shape, producing shells that were more elongated, narrower and with more parallel dorsoventral margins at lower salinities. Temperature and food supply, however, were the main drivers of mussel shape heterogeneity. Our findings revealed similar shell shape responses in Mytilus to less favourable environmental conditions across the different geographical scales analysed. Our results show how shell shape plasticity represents a powerful indicator to understand the alterations of blue mussel communities in rapidly changing environments.