Document Type


Date of Original Version



Biological Sciences


The blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, attaches itself to the substrate by producing a radially arranged complex of collagenous byssal threads. The strength of byssal attachment, or tenacity, has been shown to vary seasonally on Rhode Island shores, increasing twofold in spring in comparison with fall. It was previously assumed that this seasonality was due to increased thread production following periods of increased wave action; however, recent findings do not support this view. As an alternate hypothesis, this study evaluates the contribution of seasonal changes in the material properties of byssal threads to an annual cycle in mussel attachment strength. Tensile mechanical tests were performed seasonally, on both newly produced threads and on threads outplanted in the field for up to nine weeks. Threads produced in spring were over 60% stronger and 83% more extensible than threads produced in all other seasons. The mechanical integrity of byssal threads also deteriorated over time in spring and summer. These results suggest that reduced attachment strength in fall reflects the production of inferior quality threads following a period of increased decay. Here, we propose a new scheme where variation in byssal thread material properties, rather than quantity, explains the seasonal pattern in attachment strength observed on Rhode Island shores.