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Animals will go to any lengths to avoid predators and parasites, and Bangor University scientist Jan Hiddink knows that for some shellfish, this even includes using their snot to escape danger! Hiddink, who works at the University's School of Ocean Sciences, conducted PhD research examining why the clam species 'Macoma balthica' creates incredible strings of mucous that are caught by the sea's currents - literally dragging the clam away from trouble. Hiddink's work was so important that he has won a major prize for it, the 'North Sea Award' from the Flanders Marine Institute in Belgium. With the Award coming with a payment of 1000 Euros (or about 650 GB Pounds), Jan Hiddink has found that shellfish snot pays.
'Macoma balthica' lives in tidal flats. As Hiddink explains, many animals need to live in different places at different stages of their lives, so that the young shellfish live near the sea's high water mark, and adults of the species live around the low water mark. Hiddink saw that the mucous strings produced by the clams allow them to move between these high and low zones as they age, so that whilst the young escape being eaten by the shrimp, crabs and fish of the open water, the adults can migrate and avoid being attacked by the parasites living higher up the beach. Through four years of lab work and research in tidal zones, Hiddink's PhD proves that although the small and vulnerable shellfish find any journey "dangerous", by moving several kilometres in their fascinating way, Macoma balthica noticeably increases its chances of survival and reproduction.
So how does Hiddink feel about his study? "It's nice to hear that people
like the work you did, and it's important because this has implications
for sea level rise and marine ecosystems". In fact, with global warming's
potential to raise sea levels, whole coastal areas may find themselves
changing, dramatically affecting populations of shellfish like Macoma
balthica. Hiddink states that "In the tidal flats of the Wadden Sea in
the Netherlands, where I did my fieldwork, the clams cannot move up the
beach along with rising sea levels, as human sea walls block their progress".
With Macoma balthica an integral part of the food web, its loss could
also affect the species that eat it, including shrimps and juvenile flounders
- and that, in turn, could even affect human activities like fishing.
Jan Hiddink will receive the North Sea Award on 28th February, in Bruges, Belgium, from the Governor of West-Flanders. The Award will be presented during a marine science meeting for young researchers, where Hiddink will give a presentation about his PhD.Return to Research News