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Life on the edge: Compensatory growth and feeding rates at environmental extremes mediates potential ecosystem engineering by an invasive bivalve

Tang, Feng, Kemp, Justin S., Aldridge, David C.
The Science of the total environment 2020 v.706 pp. 135741
Bivalvia, brackish water, clams, compensatory growth, ecosystem engineering, ecosystem engineers, ecosystems, freshwater, habitats, introduced species, invasive species, juveniles, physiological response, population structure, tissues, waterways, Great Britain
Invasive non-native species (INNS) with marine or brackish origins have become increasingly common occupying freshwater habitats. The transition of INNS from marine or brackish water into physiologically stressful freshwater environments may be facilitated by compensatory growth and elevated feeding rates. In this study, we investigate the capacity of the Gulf wedge clam (Rangia cuneata), a brackish NNS that is spreading quickly across European waterways, to survive in freshwater conditions and consider its resultant impacts as an ecosystem engineer. To investigate the performance of R. cuneata under freshwater conditions, we compared the population structure, the physiological condition, and the growth of R. cuneata collected from its distributional limits in Great Britain. Feeding rate of R. cuneata was quantified by conducting a reciprocal transfer experiment with a two-way factorial design on individuals obtained from the freshwater and saline extremes. R. cuneata density was almost 10-fold higher at its most saline distributional limit (213 individual m⁻², 3.1‰) compared to its most freshwater limit (22 individuals m⁻², 1.2‰). The impaired physiological condition (18.7% lower relative soft tissue mass and 26.4% lower shell mass) and the lack of juvenile individuals also suggests that the R. cuneata inhabiting the freshwater extreme may not be able to maintain a persistent population over the long term. Although R. cuneata at its freshwater extreme were under stress, the per capita impacts caused by these individuals were not weakened at the suboptimal conditions, evidenced by their elevated growth and over four times as high relative clearance rate (0.28 L⁻¹ g⁻¹ h⁻¹) compared to those from the saline limit (0.06 L⁻¹ g⁻¹ h⁻¹). This study demonstrates that under suboptimal conditions, the physiological responses of INNS may result in elevated per capita effects which may lead to unexpected or under-estimated impacts on recipient ecosystems.