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Elemental Fingerprinting of Mussel Shells to Predict Population Sources and Redistribution Potential in the Gulf of Maine


As the climate warms, species that cannot tolerate changing conditions will only persist if they undergo range shifts. Redistribution ability may be particularly variable for benthic marine species that disperse as pelagic larvae in ocean currents. The blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, has recently experienced a warming-related range contraction in the southeastern USA and may face limitations to northward range shifts within the Gulf of Maine where dominant coastal currents flow southward. Thus, blue mussels might be especially vulnerable to warming, and understanding dispersal patterns is crucial given the species' relatively long planktonic larval period (>1 month). To determine whether trace elemental "fingerprints" incorporated in mussel shells could be used to identify population sources (i.e. collection locations), we assessed the geographic variation in shell chemistry of blue mussels collected from seven populations between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and northern Maine. Across this ∼500 km of coastline, we were able to successfully predict population sources for over two-thirds of juvenile individuals, with almost 80% of juveniles classified within one site of their collection location and 97% correctly classified to region. These results indicate that significant differences in elemental signatures of mussel shells exist between open-coast sites separated by ∼50 km throughout the Gulf of Maine. Our findings suggest that elemental "fingerprinting" is a promising approach for predicting redistribution potential of the blue mussel, an ecologically and economically important species in the region.

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