Can Mussel Beds Buffer Species Against Climate Change?

by Andy Fell, UC Davis
December 16, 2021

Habitat conservation can help buy time for heat-sensitive species in the face of climate change – but it might also leave them in a trap by preventing them from adapting in time, according to a new study from the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory recently published in the journal Ecology.

Plants and animals form habitats that alter the climate within them. Just as a forest can feel cool on a hot day, a bed of mussels creates a microclimate with lower temperatures and higher humidity than exposed rock. That can be especially important on the seashore, where plants and animals have to survive rapidly changing conditions as tides rise and fall.

Laura Jurgens, a graduate student at the Bodega lab at the time of the study, Professor Brian Gaylord of the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and Lauren Ashlock, University of Vermont, investigated how this “ecological air conditioning” affects the survival of shoreline species.

Intact mussel beds are highly effective in buffering against outside conditions, they found. Conditions remained stable throughout the day with lower temperatures and higher humidity than outside the bed.

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