Assessing the sensitivity of blue mussel beds to pressures associated with human activities.

Mainwaring, K, Tillin, HM and Tyler-Walters, H 2014 Assessing the sensitivity of blue mussel beds to pressures associated with human activities.. Peterborough, JNCC, 96pp. (UNSPECIFIED)


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The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) commissioned this project to generate an improved understanding of the sensitivities of blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) beds, found in UK waters, to pressures associated with human activities in the marine environment. The work will provide an evidence base that will facilitate and support management advice for Marine Protected Areas, development of UK marine monitoring and assessment, and conservation advice to offshore marine industries. Blue mussel beds are identified as a Habitat of Principle Importance (HPI) under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, as a Priority Marine Feature (PMF) under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, and included on the OSPAR (Annex V) list of threatened and declining species and habitats. The purpose of this project was to produce sensitivity assessments for the blue mussel biotopes included within the HPI, PMF and OSPAR habitat definitions, and clearly document the supporting evidence behind the assessments and any differences between them. A total of 20 pressures falling in five categories - biological, hydrological, physical damage, physical loss, and pollution and other chemical changes - were assessed in this report. The review examined seven blue mussel bed biotopes found on littoral sediment and sublittoral rock and sediment. The assessments were based on the sensitivity of M. edulis rather than associated species, as M. edulis was considered the most important characteristic species in blue mussel beds. To develop each sensitivity assessment, the resistance and resilience of the key elements are assessed against the pressure benchmark using the available evidence gathered in this review. The benchmarks were designed to provide a ‘standard’ level of pressure against which to assess sensitivity. Blue mussel beds were highly sensitive to a few human activities: • introduction or spread of non-indigenous species (NIS); • habitat structure changes - removal of substratum (extraction); and • physical loss (to land or freshwater habitat). Physical loss of habitat and removal of substratum are particularly damaging pressures, while the sensitivity of blue mussel beds to non-indigenous species depended on the species assessed. Crepidula fornicata and Crassostrea gigas both had the potential to outcompete and replace mussel beds, so resulted in a high sensitivity assessment. Mytilus spp. populations are considered to have a strong ability to recover from environmental disturbance. A good annual recruitment may allow a bed to recovery rapidly, though this cannot always be expected due to the sporadic nature of M. edulis recruitment. Therefore, blue mussel beds were considered to have a 'Medium' resilience (recovery within 2-10 years). As a result, even where the removal or loss of proportion of a mussel bed was expected due to a pressure, a sensitivity of 'Medium' was reported. Hence, most of the sensitivities reported were 'Medium'. It was noted, however, that the recovery rates of blue mussel beds were reported to be anywhere between two years to several decades. In addition, M. edulis is considered very tolerant of a range of physical and chemical conditions. As a result, blue mussel beds were considered to be 'Not sensitive' to changes in temperature, salinity, de-oxygenation, nutrient and organic enrichment, and substratum type, at the benchmark level of pressure. The report found that no distinct differences in overall sensitivity exist between the HPI, PMF and OSPAR definitions. Individual biotopes do however have different sensitivities to pressures, and the OSPAR definition only includes blue mussel beds on sediment. These differences were determined by the position of the habitat on the shore and the sediment type. For example, the infralittoral rock biotope (A3.361) was unlikely to be exposed to pressures that affect sediments. However in the case of increased water flow, mixed sediment biotopes were considered more stable and ‘Not sensitive’ (at the benchmark level) while the remaining biotopes were likely to be affected. <p>Using a clearly documented, evidence-based approach to create sensitivity assessments allows the assessment basis and any subsequent decision making or management plans to be readily communicated, transparent and justifiable. The assessments can be replicated and updated where new evidence becomes available ensuring the longevity of the sensitivity assessment tool. For every pressure where sensitivity was previously assessed as a range of scores in MB0102, the assessments made by the evidence review have supported one of the MB0102 assessments. The evidence review has reduced the uncertainty around assessments previously undertaken in the MB0102 project (Tillin et al., 2010) by assigning a single sensitivity score to the pressures as opposed to a range. Finally, as blue mussel bed habitats also contribute to ecosystem function and the delivery of ecosystem services, understanding the sensitivity of these biotopes may also support assessment and management in regard to these. Whatever objective measures are applied to data to assess sensitivity, the final sensitivity assessment is indicative. The evidence, the benchmarks, the confidence in the assessments and the limitations of the process, require a sense-check by experienced marine ecologists before the outcome is used in management decisions.

Item Type: Publication - Report (UNSPECIFIED)
Additional Keywords: Blue mussel bed, biogenic reef, sensitivity
Subjects: Conservation
Ecology and Environment
Marine Sciences
Divisions: Marine Biological Association of the UK > Other (MBA)
Marine Biological Association of the UK > Data & Information
Depositing User: Dr Harvey Tyler-Walters
Date made live: 22 Sep 2015 08:50
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2024 17:03

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