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Giant clams are the Swiss Army Knives of coral reefs

By Leonard Ho - Posted Dec 22, 2014 09:00 AM
A recently published research paper quantifies the many important ecological roles of Tridacna and Hippopus spp. clams. They serve as nature's buffet, filters, engineers, and homes. Beauty and purpose; we don't sing enough praises for these under-appreciated bivalves!
Giant clams are the Swiss Army Knives of coral reefs

Tridacna crocea: a beauty with real talent. Photo by Nick Hobgood

The researchers identify numerous roles giant clams play:

  • Provides direct food for a wide range of predators and scavengers.  Fish, shrimps, crabs, sponges, urchins, starfish, snails, octopus, worms, and a lot more animals of every phylum under the sea all eat clams for sustenance.
  • Provides additional nutrition for organisms that eat the clam's expelled waste, zooxanthellae, and gametes.
  • Processes and purifies seawater, thus counteracting eutrophication (in other words, keeping nutrient levels down).
  • Serve as reservoirs for zooxanthellae, releasing them "for other zooxanthellate-dependent species to ‘take up’, hence contributing to the wider coral reef ecosystem."  Think of clams as zooxanthellae banks.
  • Adds great amounts of calcium carbonate to coral reefs.
  • Bioerode existing calcium carbonate structures (e.g. coral, live rock) releasing life-building materials back into the local ecosystem.  The research specifically cites Tridacna crocea and their boring activities.
  • Gives shelter to a host of animals within its mantle scutes.
  • Provides a secure, reliable anchoring point for many organisms to colonize on.
  • Enhances topography, IOW changing the water flow around them to favor other life on the reef.
  • Are host to commensal and ectoparasitic organisms (although we're sure these clams would rather not host parasites if given a choice)

In a nutshell, giant clams play big roles in making other reef life possible ... even if it means some of this life will eat them.  The open-access research is published in Biological Conservation.

P.S. The paper uses James W. Fatherree, Julian Sprung, and Charles Delbeek's works as references.  Go reefkeeping!

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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