Giant clams as open-source, scalable reef environmental biomonitors

Daniel Killam, Diane Thompson, Katherine Morgan, Megan Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Valvometry, the electronic measurement of bivalve shell opening and closing, has been demonstrated to be a valuable biomonitoring technique in previous ecological and environmental studies. Valvometric data has been shown to relate significantly to pollution, predation, animal stress and feeding activity. However, there is a need for valvometric techniques applicable to coral reef environments, which may provide critical insights into reef resilience to ocean warming and acidification. Giant clams are endemic to coral reefs and hold great promise as valvometric recorders of light availability, productivity and other environmental variables. Despite this promise, prior valvometric work on giant clams has been limited by specialized hardware less accessible to developing countries where many coral reefs are found. Here we report on an open-source approach that uses off-the-shelf components to monitor smooth giant clam (Tridacna derasa) valve opening behavior, and tests this approach in the simulated reef environment of the Biosphere 2 Ocean. Valvometric data corroborates the influence of light availability on diurnal behavior of giant clams. The clams basked during daylight hours to expose their photosymbionts to light, and adopted a partially-closed defensive posture at night. The animals showed variations in the frequency of complete closures, with most occurring during night-time hours when the animals prioritize filter-feeding activity, clapping their valves to expel pseudofeces from their gills. Closure frequency showed a significant relation to pH and a significant lagged relationship to chlorophyll-a productivity, which are both a function of algal productivity in the Biosphere 2 Ocean tank. These results suggest that the animals fed on phytoplankton following periodic bloom events in the Biosphere 2 Ocean during the experiment. We propose that giant clams exhibit behavioral plasticity between individuals and populations, and advocate for the more widespread use of valvometry to enable comparative studies of reef environment and animal health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0278752
JournalPloS one
Issue number1 January
StatePublished - Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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