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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Native Mussels

Modeling the Response of Imperiled Freshwater Mussels to Anthropogenically Induced Changes in Water Temperature, Habitat, and Flow in Streams of the Southeastern and Central United States

Freshwater mussels are in serious global decline and urgently need protection and conservation.  Declines in the abundance and diversity of North American mussels have been attributed to a wide array of human activities that cause pollution, water-quality degradation, and habitat destruction.  Recent findings suggest that many mussel species are already living close to their upper thermal tolerances.  Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, North Carolina State University, the National Park Service, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission have initiated a study to look at the potential effects of climate change on native mussel populations.

New study begins in 2011

The goal of this research is to use mussel vulnerability and risk threshold data in regional watershed and in-stream biological response models. 

Study objectives

  • Develop watershed and in-stream regional biological response models for mussels using newly developed mussel vulnerability and risk threshold data
  • Evaluate the relative sensitivity of juvenile mussels to a range of common and extreme water temperatures that may be encountered during summer in streams in the southeastern and central US
  • Develop a method for conducting temperature tests with juvenile mussels and sediments
  • Evaluate the relative sensitivity of juvenile mussels to a range of common and extreme sediment temperatures (with and without overlying water) that may be encountered during summer in dewatered streams in the southeastern and central US
  • Determine the thermal thresholds of juvenile and adult mussels based on physiological traits
  • Compare changes in mussel community composition (with respect to thermally tolerant and thermally sensitive species) in the Upper Mississippi and St. Croix River basins between historic and current surveys
  • Measure water and sediment temperatures at known mussel beds in the Upper Mississippi and St. Croix River basins
  • Sample common and imperiled mussel occurrences and associated microhabitat parameters (i.e., temperature, flow) in one Atlantic Slope river basin to develop empirical models explaining mussel occurrence and abundance and field threshold values
  • Refine watershed and in-stream regional biological response models for mussels using newly developed mussel thermal sensitivity, physiology, and habitat specific data
  • Synthesize the stream model and mussel temperature sensitivity, physiology, habitat, and community composition information for personnel involved with management of aquatic species and environmental quality

Impact of UMESC Science

Updated climate change models will allow federal and state natural resource managers to forecast species responses to climate change over the next 30+ years and to develop adaptation strategies to mitigate the adverse effects.

Pollywogging for mussels (photo by Greg Cope, NCSU)
Scientists study juvenile mussels in streams across central and southeastern US.
Measuring mussel length (USGS photo)
Native mussels are measured for growth and development in response to effects of climate change.

Principal Investigator: Teresa Newton

US Wisconsin climate change

Juvenile mussels (USGS photo)

Juvenile freshwater mussels shown here may be especially vulnerable to climate change

 

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Page Last Modified: March 1, 2011