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Poor phenotypic integration of blue mussel inducible defenses in environments with multiple predators


  • Aaren S. Freeman,

  • John Meszaros,

  • James E. Byers

A. S. Freeman (, J. Meszaros and J. E. Byers, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of New Hampshire, 34 College Rd, Durham, NH 03824, USA.


Aquatic prey encounter an array of threat cues from multiple predators and killed conspecifics, yet the vast majority of induced defenses are investigated using cues from single predator species. In most cases, it is unclear if odors from multiple predators will disrupt defenses observed in single-predator induction experiments. We experimentally compared the inducible defenses of the common marine mussel Mytilus edulis to waterborne odor from pairwise combinations of three predators representing two attack strategies. Predators included the sea star, Asterias vulgaris (=Asteriasrubens), and the crabs Carcinus maenas and Cancer irroratus. The mussels increased adductor muscle mass in response to cues from unfed Asterias (a predatory seastar that pulls mussel shells open) and increased shell thickness in response to unfed Carcinus, a predatory crab that crushes or peels shells. However, the mussels did not express either predator specific response when exposed to the combined cues of Asterias and Carcinus, and mussels did not increase shell thickness when exposed to cues from Cancer alone or any pairwise combination of the three predators. Shell closure or ‘clamming up’ did not occur in response to any predator combination. These results suggest that predator-specific responses to the Asterias and Carcinus are poorly integrated and cannot be expressed simultaneously. Simultaneous cues from multiple predators affect the integration of predator specific defenses and predator odors from functionally similar predators do not necessarily initiate similar defenses. Ultimately, the degree that prey can integrate potentially disparate defenses in a multiple predator environment may have ecological ramifications and represent a seldom explored facet of the evolution of inducible defenses.