Mussel beds get some weird new residents

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Which one of these things is not like the others?(Credit: North­eastern University)

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If you should come across something that looks like a mussel but that has a blinking green LED in it, just leave it alone … it's a robomussel. Glued into existing mussel beds in 71 locations worldwide, the miniature sensors were developed by North­eastern University's Prof. Brian Hel­muth, and they're part of an ongoing effort to track the effects of climate change on the marine environment.

The robomussels' main task is to measure temperature changes within themselves, which are representative of the temperature extremes that the surrounding real mussels have to endure. They wirelessly transmit data once every 10 to 30 minutes.

But why copy mussels?

For one thing, the creatures live in the intertidal zone, so their body temperature is a reflection not just of changes in water temperature, but also of variations in air temperature and solar radiation exposure. Additionally, they're a key part of the ecosystem, in which they filter particulate matter from the water and serve as a food source.

Although recently described in a paper published in the journal Sci­en­tific Data, the robomussel program has actually been in operation for the past 18 years. Over that time, an international research team has used the sensors to identify areas where action needs to be taken – this could include addressing factors such as erosion or water acidification.

"If we start to see sites where the animals are reg­u­larly get­ting to tem­per­a­tures that are right below what kills them, we know that any slight increase is likely to send them over the edge, and we can act," says Helmuth.

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