Emily Carrington, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
"Living in a Material World: Ecomechanics of Mussel Attachment on
Mussels often dominate temperate rocky coasts, forming dense beds
in the mid-intertidal zone
which exclude competitors from primary space yet provide secondary
habitat for other organisms.
The frequency and severity of disturbance to mussel beds therefore
plays an important role in
structuring intertidal communities. One common form of
disturbance to mussel beds is
dislodgment by storm waves, which can generate hydrodynamic forces that
attachment strength. Can we use engineering principles to predict
the size and timing of these
disturbances? My research on mussels in New England shows byssal
attachment strength varies
twofold seasonally; this large variation in a key structural material
renders mussels prone to
strong dislodgment events during hurricane season (up to 40% Sep-Nov),
a period when large
waves coincide with relatively weak mussel attachment. Current
research in my laboratory
employs both laboratory and field studies to elucidate the proximal
causes of variable
attachment strength. Specifically, we are evaluating the influence of
physiological condition on the mechanical performance of mussel byssus.
Together, these studies
not only provide insight into the ecology and evolution of marine
mussels, but may inspire the
design of novel high-performance materials.