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Frequency, magnitude, and possible causes of stranding and mass-mortality events of the beach clam Tivela mactroides (Bivalvia: Veneridae)


Stranding combined with mass-mortality events of sandy-beach organisms is a frequent but little-understood phenomenon, which is generally studied based on discrete episodes. The frequency, magnitude, and possible causes of stranding and mass-mortality events of the trigonal clam Tivela mactroides were assessed based on ecocensuses of stranded individuals, every four days from September 2007 through December 2008, in Caraguatatuba Bay, southeastern Brazil. Stranded clams were classified as dying (closed valves did not open when forced) or dead (closed valves were easily opened). Information on wave parameters and the living intertidal clam population was used to assess possible causes of stranding. This fine-scale monitoring showed that stranding occurred widely along the shore and year-round, with peaks interspersed with periods of low or no mortality. Dead clams showed higher mean density than dying individuals, but a lower mean shell length, attributed to a higher tolerance to desiccation of larger individuals. Wave height had a significant negative relationship to the density of dying individuals, presumed to be due to the accretive nature of low-energy waves: when digging out, clams would be more prone to be carried upward and unable to return; while larger waves, breaking farther from the beach and with a stronger backwash, would prevent stranding in the uppermost areas. This ecological finding highlights the need for refined temporal studies on mortality events, in order to understand them more clearly. Last, the similar size structure of stranded clams and the living population indicated that the stranded individuals are from the intertidal or shallow subtidal zone, and reinforces the ecological and behavioral components of this process, which have important ecological and socioeconomic implications for the management of this population. (AU)

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