The effects of transportation stress and barnacle fouling on predation rates of starfish (Asterias rubens) on mussels (Mytilus edulis).

Julia Calderwood, Nessa E. O'Connor, Dai Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The starfish, Asterias rubens, is widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere and is an important predator on benthic mussel (Mytilus edulis) beds. Whilst several studies have examined how the size of individuals determines this predator–prey relationship, less is known about how the physiological condition of the prey (mussels) and the extent of their fouling may alter these relationships. Such issues are of particular interest to those working within the benthic mussel cultivation industry to inform best management practice and to help minimise losses during the aquaculture process. The potential role of starfish in the removal of epibiotic barnacles from mussels, the presence of which increases processing costs within the industry, is also of interest. We tested whether stressing mussels by aerial exposure for 48 h and whether the extent of barnacle fouling on mussels affected the feeding rates of three different size classes of starfish feeding on two different size classes of mussels. Feeding rates on stressed and unstressed mussels were similar for each starfish–mussel size combination. Barnacle fouling reduced the feeding rate of medium-sized starfish on larger-sized mussels. We also observed starfish, of all size classes, preying directly on the epibiotic barnacles on mussels, however, feeding rates were low and considered unlikely to reduce the extent of fouling on mussels. Our findings show that the predator–prey relationship between starfish and mussels does not differ between unstressed mussels and those experimentally stressed by aerial exposure for 48 h so that this level of stress is unlikely to affect predation rates by A. rubens following relaying in commercial operations. Whilst barnacle fouling suppressed predation rates in one of our experimental treatments, it does not appear that fouling by barnacles would provide a significant refuge from predation for the majority of mussels in benthic aquaculture stocks. Instead we found the size relationship between starfish and mussels was more important in determining predation rates. Starfish are also unlikely to help reduce barnacle fouling on cultured mussels by preying solely on fouling barnacles and the need to control starfish predation during culture remains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-113
Number of pages6
Early online date04 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2015


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