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Mussels evolve quickly to defend against invasive crabs

DURHAM, N.H. Scientists at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) have found that invasive crab species may precipitate evolutionary change in blue mussels in as little as 15 years. The study, by UNH graduate student Aaren Freeman with associate professor of zoology James Byers and published in the Aug. 11 issue of the journal Science, indicates that such a response can evolve in an evolutionary nanosecond compared to the thousands of years previously assumed. The paper is called "Divergent induced responses to an invasive predator in marine mussel populations."

"It's the blending of ecological and evolutionary time," says Freeman, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of zoology. "It's an important development in the arms race between these crabs and these mollusks." Crabs prey on blue mussels by crushing their shells.

Freeman looked at the inducible defense shell thickening of blue mussels (Mytlius edulis) in the presence of two invasive crab species in New England, the Asian shore crab Hemigrapsus sanguineus and the green crab Carcinus maenas. While Carcinus was introduced to New England from Europe between 150 and 200 years ago, Hemigrapsus is a relative newcomer, arriving from Asia to New Jersey in 1988. While previous research had established that mussels recognize Carcinus, it had not be determined if they recognize Hemigrapsus. And, crucial to the design of Freeman's study, Hemigrapsus is not present north of mid-coast Maine.

"This set up a chance to look at populations that had been exposed to the predators for varying lengths of time," says Freeman. "We wanted to know, how is it that these mollusks can recognize a crab that is historically not present in North America?"

Freeman exposed mussels native to the northern above mid-coast Maine and southern New England to both Carcinus and the Hemigrapsus. Both populations thickened their shells when exposed to waterborne cues of Carcinus, but only the southern mussel
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Contact: Beth Potier
beth.potier@unh.edu
603-862-1566
University of New Hampshire
10-Aug-2006


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