• Cerastoderma edule ;
  • climate variability;
  • condition index;
  • ecosystem engineer;
  • gametogenesis;
  • phenology


Climate variability and the rapid warming of seas undoubtedly have huge ramifications for biological processes such as reproduction. As such, gametogenesis and spawning were investigated at two sites over 200 km apart on the south coast of Ireland in an ecosystem engineer, the common cockle, Cerastoderma edule. Both sites are classed as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), but are of different water quality. Cerastoderma edule plays a significant biological role by recycling nutrients and affecting sediment structure, with impacts upon assemblage biomass and functional diversity. It plays a key role in food webs, being a common foodstuff for a number of marine birds including the oystercatcher. Both before and during the study (early 2010–mid 2011), Ireland experienced its two coldest winters for 50 years. As the research demonstrated only slight variation in the spawning period between sites, despite site differences in water and environmental quality, temperature and variable climatic conditions were the dominant factor controlling gametogenesis. The most significant finding was that the spawning period in the cockle extended over a greater number of months compared with previous studies and that gametogenesis commenced over winter rather than in spring. Extremely cold winters may impact on the cockle by accelerating and extending the onset and development of gametogenesis. Whether this impact is positive or negative would depend on the associated events occurring on which the cockle depends, that is, presence of primary producers and spring blooms, which would facilitate conversion of this extended gametogenesis into successful recruitment.