Marine Biodiversity

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 1–10 | Cite as

How did Mya arenaria (Mollusca; Bivalvia) repopulate European waters in mediaeval times?

  • Karel EssinkEmail author
  • Albert Peter Oost


During the Pleistocene, the coastal marine bivalve mollusc Mya arenaria became extinct in NW Europe. The species survived in Northern America. Radiocarbon dating of shells found in Denmark, The Netherlands and the southern Baltic Sea proves repopulation of NW European coasts already before Columbus’ discovery of America (1492). Petersen et al. (Nature 359: 679, 1992) hypothesised that this repopulation was facilitated by Vikings visiting Greenland and NE North America a few centuries earlier. In this paper, we discuss the feasibility of cross-Atlantic transport of Mya arenaria by ocean currents or via ‘stepping stones’, for both of which we found no supporting evidence. The long-lasting presence of Vikings in Greenland and NE America between c. 1000 and 1350 AD, provided several clues for shipping-related vectors to have assisted at the mediaeval dispersal of Mya arenaria from NE America to North Sea waters in Europe. Common elements in the genetic structure and diversity of M. arenaria in Northwest Atlantic and North Sea waters point towards the Northwest Atlantic coasts as probable area of origin and the North Sea as the first area of introduction in European waters.


North America North Atlantic Biological introduction Biogeography Vikings 



Hereby we thank Dr. P. St-Onge (now at Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada) for his help with the interpretation of the genetic studies on populations of Mya arenaria. We also thank Dr. J. Sørensen (Kaldbak, Faroe Islands) for his effort in checking the database of the Faroese Natural History Museum,


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sunken History FoundationEeldeThe Netherlands
  2. 2.DeltaresUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Physical GeographyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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