Demographic and life-history attributes of the yellow clam, Mesodesma mactroides, were analyzed along exposed sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast of South America, from Brazil (32°S) to Argentina (41°S), covering most of its geographical range (24–41°S). Population features varied markedly within this range and exhibited systematic geographical patterns of variation. Abundance and growth/mortality rates significantly decreased from northern (Brazil and Uruguay) to southern (Argentina) populations. Snapshot information at the edge of its northern geographical range suggests a large-scale unimodal distribution pattern. Northern populations also had an extended or quasi-continuous recruitment season, whereas Argentinean populations had seasonal recruitment that became negligible at the southernmost edge of the range (41°S). Maximum individual sizes increased nonlinearly with latitude. This result, when considered together with density patterns, provided the second large-scale evidence of scaling of population density to body size in a sandy-beach population. Lifespan increased with latitude, ranging between 3 and >7 years. Length frequency-distribution analysis revealed marked intra-annual growth patterns for two populations located 7° latitude apart. Variations in water temperature explained large-scale differences in the demography and population dynamics of the yellow clam, and the high plasticity over latitudinal gradients leads to an adjustment of the phenotype–environment relationship. Long-term studies in Uruguayan beaches suggest that wide population fluctuations are the result of intertwined forces of environmental, density-dependent, and human-induced factors operating together at different spatiotemporal scales. As this species with planktonic larvae is structured as a metapopulation, future studies should incorporate a number of hierarchical scales to better understand macroscale variations in demographic patterns and life-history traits.
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Vol. 2006 • No. 224