Growth rate and age effects on Mya arenaria shell chemistry: Implications for biogeochemical studies Academic Article uri icon


  • The chemical composition of bivalve shells can reflect that of their environment, making them useful indicators of climate, pollution, and ecosystem changes. However, biological factors can also influence chemical properties of biogenic carbonate. Understanding how these factors affect chemical incorporation is essential for studies that use elemental chemistry of carbonates as indicators of environmental parameters. This study examined the effects of bivalve shell growth rate and age on the incorporation of elements into juvenile softshell clams, Mya arenaria. Although previous studies have explored the effects of these two biological factors, reports have differed depending on species and environmental conditions. In addition, none of the previous studies have examined growth rate and age in the same species and within the same study. We reared clams in controlled laboratory conditions and used solution-based inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analysis to explore whether growth rate affects elemental incorporation into shell. Growth rate was negatively correlated with Mg, Mn, and Ba shell concentration, possibly due to increased discrimination ability with size. The relationship between growth rate and Pb and Sr was unresolved. To determine age effects on incorporation, we used laser ablation ICP-MS to measure changes in chemical composition across shells of individual clams. Age affected incorporation of Mn, Sr, and Ba within the juvenile shell, primarily due to significantly different elemental composition of early shell material compared to shell accreted later in life. Variability in shell composition increased closer to the umbo (hinge), which may be the result of methodology or may indicate an increased ability with age to discriminate against ions that are not calcium or carbonate. The effects of age and growth rate on elemental incorporation have the potential to bias data interpretation and should be considered in any biogeochemical study that uses bivalves as environmental indicators.

publication date

  • February 2008