Even though mollusks' capacity to repair shell damage is usually studied in response to a single event, their shells have to defend them against predatory and environmental threats throughout their potentially multi-decadal life. We measured whether and how mollusks respond to chronic mechanical stress. Once a week for 7 months, we compressed whole live California mussels (Mytilus californianus) for 15 cycles at ∼55% of their predicted one-time breaking force, a treatment known to cause fatigue damage in shells. We found mussels repaired their shells. Shells of experimentally stressed mussels were just as strong at the end of the experiment as those of control mussels that had not been experimentally loaded, and they were more heavily patched internally. Additionally, stressed shells differed in morphology; they were heavier and thicker at the end of the experiment than control shells but they had increased less in width, resulting in a flatter, less domed shape. Finally, the chronic mechanical stress and repair came at a cost, with stressed mussels having higher mortality and less soft tissue than the control group. Although associated with significant cost, mussels' ability to maintain repair in response to ongoing mechanical stress may be vital to their survival in harsh and predator-filled environments.

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