Friday, May 11, 2012, third entry:
The Florida Tech Biological Oceanography students are back in the lab, counting and identifying their 10×10 cm plot mussel samples from Mussel Point . There are dozens and sometimes hundreds of individual critters living in and amongst Mytilus. The mussels, which range from almost microscopic to a handspan long, attach themselves to the rock with thin cords, fine as thread but much stronger, known as byssal thread (see image at head of post). One mussel will secrete many of these threads in order to create a great strength of attachment (think Gulliver’s Travels!).
Florida Tech Biological Oceanography students observed that the sheltered area in between and below mussels, the tiny “forest” of byssal threads, and the hard shells of the mussels themselves all serve as habitat for a plethora of other marine intertidal invertebrate animals. For this reason, the California blue mussel Mytilus californianus, is known as a “foundation species” or “ecosystem engineer”.
Some of the organisms that live under, amongst, and on mussels include the following: other bivalves, barnacles, limpets, snails, ribbon worms, sea cucumbers, sea stars, peanut worms, polychaet worms, sponges, bryozoans, chordates, anemones, sea weeds, crabs, amphipods, isopods, nudibranchs, hydroids, and others. The Biological Oceanography students from Florida Tech saw most of these and were dutifully impressed with the numbers and diversity in such small sample plots.