Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 June 2008
Byssogenesis rate and attachment strength of the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis were investigated in the laboratory considering different body sizes and feeding conditions. Byssal thread secretion was significantly higher in juveniles as compared to larger mussels of approximately 87 mm shell length. Asymptotic number of threads attached was obtained from approximately 72 hours onwards within a range of 42–46 and 27–31 for juveniles and larger experimental mussels, respectively (P < 0.05 ANOVA). Absorption efficiency values of control fed individuals dropped significantly from 0.78 in juveniles to 0.70 in larger mussels (P < 0.001 ANOVA) which pointed out energetic constraints of mussels with regard to their size and its probable effect on byssus secretion rates. Attachment force was 2.8 times higher in larger mussels than in juveniles (2.21 versus 0.78 N for both sizes, respectively; P < 0.001 ANOVA) which in turn followed the same order of magnitude than differences in the thread's thickness values of both experimental mussel sizes. Tenacity followed a reverse pattern with juveniles presenting two-fold higher values than larger mussels (P < 0.001 ANOVA) based on a lower increment of attachment force (x2.8) as compared to shell area (x6) for the comparison larger versus juvenile mussel size, which in turn might suggest that larger specimens secreted weaker threads. When animals were maintained unfed for a week, a significant drop in both byssus secretion and attachment force were observed in juveniles but was not the case for larger mussels most likely as a consequence of a relatively short period of maintenance under food availability stress for the latter individuals that showed significantly higher initial condition and/or energetic store values. Accordingly, the use of energetic reserves in juveniles kept unfed for a week together with a significant drop in byssus secretion and attachment force might suggest a link, i.e. transfer of energy between soft tissues and byssus under stress. Quantitative values of byssal threads, based on the significance of the byssus versus attachment force relationship, together with its morphometric value, i.e. thread's thickness, represented a primary mechanism to explain variability in attachment strength of M. galloprovincialis of the different body sizes studied here.