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Centre for

Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology

From the shoreline to the deep ocean, tackling issues from pure ecology
and physiology to aquaculture, marine spatial planning and conservation.

Marwa Mohammed AlGhanem

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Marwa's project: Investigation of the biodiversity and ecology of encrusting epifauna associated with bivalve molluscs

 Horse mussels (Modiolus modiolus) are common on UK coasts, and are important to conservation where they form extensive beds in sandy and muddy seascapes.  Although M. modiolus is a widespread and common species, horse mussel beds are more limited in their distribution.

Communities associated with M. modiolus beds are diverse, with a wide range of epibiota and infauna, including sessile species such as sponges, bryozoans and ascidians, and mobile species such as polychaete worms and crabs.

Bryozoa are phylum of small to microspcopic but fascinating and often beautiful animals that build intricate colonies.  Despite the fact that there are about 8000 living species, the Bryozoa remain largely unknown to most people.  In nature, Bryozoa increase local biodiversity on the seabed by offering shelter for other animals.  Bryozoans are ecologically important due to their feeding method as suspension feeders.

Project Aims

This study seeks to give a comprehensive account of the encrusting epifaunal communities (Bryozoans, Polychaetes and barnacles) on horse mussels from sites throughout the range of the species.  This research will provide an account of size-related epifaunal succession based on epifaunal abundances and community composition, as well as highlighting patterns in the distribution of epifauna.  Size-based analyses in this study will highlight the value of the epifaunal communities of M. modiolus shells as biodiversity indicators.

Project Objectives

  1. Measure epifaunal abundance and species richness in relation to mussel shell length to understand how size is linked with community development.
  2. Explore how horse mussel shell size and shell region is related to the abundance and diversity of epifaunal colonisers
  3. Study shell regions in order to understand which regions of the shell are able to support the highest levels of epifauna
  4. Identify Bryozoans, Polychaetes and barnacle species on horse mussel shells and record species colony number and area on the horse mussel regions
  5. Analyse horse mussel epifaunal data claculating dissimilarity between horse mussel shell regions and size clases to give and understanding of the community complexity of the horse mussel shell epifauna, and relate the community epifaunal organisms to the environmental and biogeographic context.



Bill Sanderson

Joanne Porter

Dan Harries


This project is funded by the Ministry of Interior Affairs, state of Qatar.
Location: DB2.65     
School of Life Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus, Edinburgh, EH14 4AS