The infaunal, suspension-feeding softshell clam (Mya arenaria L.) is a conspicuous member of the intertidal macrofauna in numerous northern temperate and boreal soft-bottom communities. Recruitment variability can affect the magnitude and scope of various ecosystem services provided by M. arenaria, including its role as a source of food and energy for organisms at higher trophic levels. Manipulative field experiments were conducted in the intertidal zone in 2014 and 2015 at three tidal estuaries in southern Maine, to investigate the importance of post-settlement processes in determining the strength of the annual 0-y class cohort across predator-exclusion treatments within and between tidal heights. Four short-term (4–5 mo), small-scale studies over both years in the Webhannet River (Wells, ME) and Fore River (Portland, ME), the two southernmost estuaries, demonstrated that clam recruits were up to 118× more abundant when predators were deterred versus controls. In a 7-mo study conducted in the Harraseeket River (HR; Freeport, ME) during 2014, recruits of Mya attained densities 899× greater in large-scale plots designed to exclude large (>6 mm) predators than in ambient, adjacent sediments where predators were undeterred. A novel, epibenthic settlement trap (0.15 m2), initially containing no sediments and designed to deter both infaunal and epibenthic predators larger than 1.9 mm, was used to examine spatial variability in clam recruitment over a 6-mo period in 2015 in the HR. Traps showed a 60-fold difference in mean number of clam recruits between sides of the river only 600 m apart. Collectively, results suggest that post-settlement mortality rates of 0-y class individuals of Mya exceed 99% at these locations, severely limiting ecosystem services they would otherwise provide, and that these early losses are primarily responsible for explaining distribution and abundance patterns of ≥1-y class individuals.
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