Dreissenids' breaking loose: differential attachment as a possible driver of the dominance shift between two invasive mussel species.
Ponto-Caspian dreissenids are notorious freshwater invaders. Recently, widespread observations show a dominance shift from the early invader, Dreissena polymorpha, to its successor, Dreissena bugensis. These observations likely reflect congeneric species differences in physiological and behavioural traits. Here, we assessed the mussel attachment strength, attachment rate, and the mode of byssal failure as trait differences that could potentially contribute to dominance shifts. The attachment traits were measured in field and laboratory experiments. Fouling plates were deployed in the Rhine-Meuse river delta and dreissenids were collected and acclimatised in 60 L non-aerated freshwater tanks. Attachment strength was positively correlated with shell size. The attachment strength of D. bugensis was significantly greater compared to slower growing D. polymorpha individuals of a dreissenid field assemblage. This corresponded to the superior byssal thread morphology of D. bugensis (i.e. higher number and two times wider byssal threads). Moreover, our results indicated that byssal threads of D. bugensis are stronger than those of D. polymorpha, as the latter ruptured more often. Additionally, D. bugensis had a significantly lower attachment rate than D. polymorpha. Having a greater attachment strength gives D. bugensis an advantage when it comes to withstanding currents and predators. On the other hand, not being attached allows an individual to actively move around. This would allow them to move away from fast changing unfavourable environmental conditions. These attachment traits indicate competitive benefits for D. bugensis over D. polymorpha, therefore possibly contributing to the dominance shifts.