A new study by researchers at the University of Stirling could help Scottish mussel farmers achieve more consistent, and higher, production levels.
The research, by Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, focused on the blue mussel aquaculture along Scotland's Atlantic coast, an industry known for its sustainable and eco-friendly protein production - but which has faced production inconsistencies in recent years.
The research involved collecting mussel samples for genetic analysis, revealing how regular genetic mixing changes local populations, and identifying movement of larvae between locations.
The researchers say their findings could help mussel farmers improve site selection, stocking strategies, and management practices.
“This could lead to more consistent production and improved profitability for the mussel farming industry and contribute to the overall health and resilience of marine ecosystems in Scotland,” the University of Stirling said in a press release.
The study identified the southwest coast of Scotland as a key location for growing mussel populations, with locations furthest south acting as net sources of mussel larvae, and those in the north acting as “sinks” for mussel populations, receiving larvae from other locations.
“Sink stocks play an important role in maintaining genetic diversity within a population, providing benefits such as increased resilience to environmental stresses, improved adaptability to changing conditions, and promoting the long-term survival of the population,” the researchers said.
These insights could assist mussel farmers in stabilizing production and increasing profitability, the research team suggest.
“This is the first-time research like this has been done in Scottish waters," said lead researcher, Dr Ana Corrochano-Fraile.
“Understanding the connectivity among mussel populations and the roles of source and sink stocks is crucial for protecting mussel farming areas and ensuring that the mussel populations remain sustainable.”
“This is important for maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem as mussels are a crucial part of the food chain and their decline can have cascading effects on other species.”
“By identifying source and sink stocks, managers can implement measures to protect and maintain these areas to ensure the sustainability of mussel populations and the ecosystem as a whole,” she added.
The paper, Estimating blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) connectivity and settlement capacity in mid-latitude fjord regions was published in the journal Communications Biology.