Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research

Kairomones: The mechanism behind mussel – starfish interactions

Starfish are the natural predators of mussels. It is known that starfish and mussels have effects on each other’s behavior due to water-soluble chemical cues. A mussel closes its shells when noticing the compounds excreted by a starfish. This type of chemical cue between different species is called a kairomone.

In a research collaboration between NIOZ and HZ University of Applied Sciences it is affirmed that more knowledge on the mechanism behind the mussel and starfish interaction can lead to a better understanding of the protection of mussels from starfish predation. We are looking for a MSc student with a background in aquaculture or ecosystem biology who is interested in this master student research project.  

Project Aim

What is the behavior of mussels in the presence of starfish or starfish chemical cues?


Set up a bioassay for monitoring the direct and indirect effects (chemical cues) of starfish on the behavior of mussels, such as shell closure
1. Literature research on the behavior of the mussel – starfish interaction, e.g. the behavior influenced by chemical cues
2. Define possible bioassay set-ups to investigate this eco-behavior
3. A mussel and a starfish cultivation will be set up (if necessary)
4. Selection of read-out signals: shell closure, bonding to surfaces, health, dying (quantitative and qualitative)
5. Defining parameters: temperature, feeding balance, exchange of water
6. Two or three types of bioassays will be set up and evaluated, including blanks, positive and negative controls
7. If spare time: experimental set-up for purifying and/or concentrating positive test water, isolation of compounds

Foreseen output

Literature report, bioassay, report on experimental results, advice for further research


NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Korringaweg 7, Yerseke, and HZ University of Applied Sciences, Research Group Aquaculture and Marine Chemistry


6 months (or longer)

Contact person 

Dorien Derksen, or, +31 (0)6-20355906