Honors College Theses

Publication Date



Biochemistry (B.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Worlanyo Eric Gato & Dr. Sophie B. George


Geukensia demissa, the ribbed mussel, is a keystone species of Georgia’s coastline that is at risk of experiencing detrimental thermal stress due to climate change. G. demissa interacts positively with a species of salt marsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora. Mussels form aggregates beneath salt marsh cordgrass stems where they are shaded and less exposed to sun rays. However, some mussels end up in areas which lack cordgrass and are directly exposed to sun rays. Body temperatures of mussels from exposed areas were found to be higher than mussels from less exposed areas. Thermal stress levels of mussels can be indicated using heart rate and heat shock proteins (HSPs). If exposed mussels acclimate to higher temperatures than less exposed mussels, then they may exhibit a higher maximum temperature tolerance point and lower heart rates at an elevated temperature. Exposed mussels were found to maintain lower heart rates than less exposed mussels after elevated temperature subjection. Mussels collected from less exposed areas had greater expression of most HSPs and responded to heat exposure with stronger upregulation of HSPs than those from exposed areas. This study supports our hypothesis that the presence of S. alterniflora in the intertidal salt marsh is important for the regulation of thermal stress conditions of G. demissa. Continuing to study G. demissa and other keystone intertidal species is incredibly important for understanding how the health of intertidal ecosystems can be maintained, despite climate change, for the good of both people and the planet.

Included in

Biochemistry Commons