Ecology of freshwater mussels in disturbed environments

Detta är en avhandling från Fakulteten för samhälls- och livsvetenskaper

Sammanfattning: The number of species extinctions is increasing at an alarming rate. Long-lived freshwater mussels of the order Unionoida, which include a parasitic stage on a host fish, are highly threatened. Habitat degradation by turbidity and sedimentation is thought to be one major reason for their decline. The objective of this thesis was to examine recruitment patterns and identify the causes of the lack of recruitment in the threatened unionoid freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera). In addition, I investigated the effects of turbidity on non-endangered dreissenid mussels, where turbidity was manipulated through use of bioturbating mayflies.In a survey of 107 Swedish streams, mussel population size and trout density were both positively correlated to recruitment probability of M. margaritifera. A more in-depth study of the age-structure of nine populations revealed that four of these populations showed no signs of recruitment over the last ten years. Within-stream variation in recruitment was high as both mussels and trout had patchy distribution, and may be important for population regulation. Moreover, examination of different life stages revealed no differences in the gravid mussel stage or the stage when mussels infect salmonid fish. Instead, differences were observed for the juvenile, benthic stage, presumably related to differences in turbidity and sedimentation. High turbidity may affect filter-feeding efficiency of mussels and high sedimentation may reduce survival by clogging sediments, thereby altering, for example, oxygen and food conditions. In the study of the effects of turbidity, bioturbating mayflies increased turbidity and filter-feeding dreissenid mussels reduced turbidity. Mussel growth both decreased and increased with increasing turbidity, depending on sediment type.Turbidity and sedimentation often impact entire stream systems, and a holistic, catchment-based management strategy may be needed to reduce the effects of sedimentation on freshwater pearl mussels. The effects of restoration take a long time and must start soon if recruitment of mussels is to be re-established. Restoration may also be more urgent in some streams than in others, as the maximum age of M. margaritifera populations in my study differed by as much as 60 years. As mussel and trout densities seem to be important for recruitment success, one conservation method may be to concentrate mussels into sites where trout density is high.