In this work we examined morphological variation at different levels to study performance and population structuring of the blue mussel Mytilus edulis
. Our objectives were: (i) to develop an integrated technique for analyzing morphological variation in blue mussels and, based on this technique; (ii) to perform a morphometric description of mussels from the northern part of their range; and (iii) to verify the hypothesis that populations at the outer range of their distribution have reduced performance due to harsh climatic conditions. Means, directional asymmetry (i.e.
, systematic differences between left and right structures), fluctuating asymmetry (random deviations from perfect symmetry, a measure of developmental instability), factorial variation (difference between total variance and variance of fluctuating asymmetry, an indirect index of genotypic variation), and measurement error were examined for 14 bilateral characters of muscle scars on mussel shells. Also, we analyzed one non-bilateral character. For the first time directional asymmetry—approaching 13% of the right:left ratio—was described in blue mussels. Measurement error, often ignored in morphometric studies, contributed 26% of total variance. Accurately addressing these methodical challenges is key to further and improved ecological interpretations. Morphological differences were found between (i) samples from estuarine areas in the White and Pechora Seas and (ii) samples from Barents Sea areas with oceanic salinity. Samples from the first group exhibited lower fluctuating asymmetry, indicating higher developmental stability likely due to better feeding conditions and lower factorial variation, which may result from lower genotypic variation. Absence of correlation between fluctuating asymmetry and temperature suggests that low temperatures in the northern border of their range do not degrade the performance of adult blue mussels in this region.
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