A comparative study of the mechanical properties of Mytilid byssal threads.

Research paper by Trevor T Pearce, Michael M Labarbera

Indexed on: 05 May '09Published on: 05 May '09Published in: The Journal of experimental biology


Mytilid bivalves employ a set of threads (the byssus) to attach themselves to both hard and soft substrates. In this study, we measured the mechanical properties of byssal threads from two semi-infaunal mytilids (Geukensia demissa Dillwyn and Modiolus modiolus Linnaeus) and two epifaunal mytilids (Mytilus californianus Conrad and Mytilus edulis Linnaeus). We compared material properties with and without the assumption that changes of length and area during tensile testing are insignificant, demonstrating that previous researchers have overestimated extensibility values by 30% and may also have underestimated strength values. We detected significant differences in thread properties among tested mytilid species, contrary to previous findings. Threads from semi-infaunal species were significantly thinner than those from epifaunal species, perhaps to allow the production of a greater number of threads, which form a dense network within the substrate. Geukensia demissa threads were weaker than those of the other species, and had a significantly lower stiffness at failure. Modiolus modiolus threads were significantly stiffer than M. edulis threads but also significantly less extensible, suggesting a trade-off between stiffness and extensibility. The only thread property that did not show significant differences across species was toughness - even when byssal threads differ in strength or stiffness, they seem to absorb similar amounts of energy per unit volume prior to failure. This study reveals notable differences between the byssal thread properties of different mytilid bivalves and provides a reliable and thorough methodology for future comparative studies.