Despite estimates of very high (>99.9%) pre-settlement mortality, the extremely large numbers of eggs released into the plankton means that there are abundant post-larval softshell clams (Mya arenaria) available to settle and populate intertidal flats. Many seemingly suitable flats remain devoid of clams, presumably due to post-settlement predation. Predator exclusion/clam recruitment boxes (wooden frames covered top and bottom with a fine plastic screening) were set on a mudflat in Salem Harbor, Salem, MA from April to November 2019. Clam larvae were able to settle through the screen into the boxes but large (>1.9 mm) predators such as European green crabs (Carcinus maenas) and milky ribbon worms (Cerebratulus lacteus) were excluded. At the end of the study, four of five boxes contained between 121 and 290 juvenile softshell clams ranging in size from 7 mm to 32 mm shell length. A bimodal frequency distribution of sizes likely illustrates an early summer (June) set represented by a larger size grouping followed by a second late-summer set represented by a smaller size grouping. Small green crabs (9–46 mm carapace width) found in all five boxes must have grown from extremely small stage 1 crabs that were able to settle or crawl through the screening as recently settled individuals. Resulting empty clam shells could be paired to yield the equivalent of additional clams, making the total number per box between 147 and 417 individuals. No clams were found in samples outside of the boxes, indicating that the absence of a clam population on the mudflat is due to post-settlement predation and not pre-settlement mortality.
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Vol. 41 • No. 1