The interacting effects of little neck hard clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) density and bottom shear stress on cohesive sediment erodibility were investigated. Short-term stepwise erosion experiments in 30 and 40 cm diameter Gust microcosms over a range of 0.0083 to 0.1932 Pa were performed using sequential 20-minute constant shear stress steps while sampling turbidity regularly. In addition, sediment erodibility was monitored in two one-month long ecosystem experiments with tidal resuspension and 0, 10, and 50 hard clams in 1 m3 shear turbulence resuspension mesocosms (STURM) with an initial stepwise erosion experiment (0.313 to 0.444 Pa). In short-term erosion experiments, a low density of hard clams did not significantly affect sediment erodibility, but a high density of hard clams destabilized muddy sediments through significantly decreased critical shear stresses and higher erosion rates, resulting in higher cumulative suspended mass (CSM). In long-term erosion experiments, the sediment stabilized over time between treatments and decreased to a CSM of approximately 60 g m–2 with different densities of hard clams. This was likely due to development of microphytobenthos, mediated by the filter-feeding clams, bottom shear stress and increased light. Bioturbation by a dense bed of hard clams in interaction with infrequent high bottom shear due to storms may increase CSM in the water column, with subsequent direct and indirect effects on the ecosystem. However, more controlled longer-term erosion studies to determine the interacting effects of long-term exposure to high bottom shear stress, benthos, and microphytobenthos on sediment erodibility and benthic-pelagic coupling are needed.
Porter, Elka T., Barbara J. Johnson, and Lawrence P. Sanford. 2020. "Effects of hard clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) density and bottom shear stress on cohesive sediment erodibility and implications for benthic-pelagic coupling." Journal of Marine Research 78, (2). https://elischolar.library.yale.edu/journal_of_marine_research/488