During July 1984, large numbers of the sandy beach bivalve Donax vittatus (da Costa) were found either stranded in the intertidal, or washing to and fro in the surf on beaches at Dornoch, on the east coast of Scotland. The affected bivalves all carried large growths of several species of algae. The normal burrowing and recovery responses of the bivalves were unable to overcome the increased drag resulting from these epizoic algal colonies so that wave action caused dislodgement from the sand and eventually, stranding and death from dehydration. The resulting mortality affected mainly older individuals in the population; younger individuals had very small or no attached algae and were not dislodged.
The algal growths were complex and showed three stages in their development: primary settlements formed generally short tufts or mats attached to the posterior tip of die shell; secondary ‘dominant’ species were also attached to die shell but formed larger growths; tertiary species were attached as epiphytes to the primary and secondary growths. At least eight species of algae were involved. Juvenile mussels (Mytilus edulis L.) were also present in many cases attached to the weed, adding further to die drag.
During 1985, at Dornoch, secondary and tertiary algal species developed progressively from overwintering primary settlements, but the size of die algal colonies which developed was generally smaller dian in 1984 and diere was apparently little dislodgement and mortality.
Donax vittatus populations on other beaches in die Moray Firdi, and on most other Scottish beaches examined, had fewer individuals with attached algae, and diose affected carried only relatively small colonies which did not prevent normal burrowing. Complex algal colonies, showing even greater species diversity than those of Dornoch were, however, found on D. vittatus on beaches in South Harris, Outer Hebrides, during September 1984.