Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
Freshwater mussels are among the most fascinating, widespread, and endangered animals in fresh waters. Mussels perform important roles in river ecosystems, such as filtering large amounts of water and associated sediments which improves water clarity, alters water chemistry, and regulates the amounts and kinds of particles in the water. Mussels also increase species diversity by creating habitat for aquatic insects and fish. Algae and macroinvertebrates rely on mussels to convert food and waste products in the water column, like nutrients, into beneficial forms for animals living on the river bottom.
However, overharvesting, widespread habitat destruction, pollution, land-use change, and exotic species introductions have caused many freshwater mussel populations to decline or disappear. In the past 50 years about 20 mussel species have been lost from the Upper Mississippi River (UMR) basin (Havlik and Sauer 2000). Native mussels serve as an indicator of water and sediment quality, much like canaries did for the coal mines, and declines signal a potential deterioration in the health of our riverine community.
Our long-term goal is to conserve and restore healthy freshwater mussel populations in the UMR basin and elsewhere. This focus is largely derived from conversations with resource managers who have expressed the following short-term needs:
Current ProjectsFactors limiting mussel distributions
Status of the mussel community
Evaluation of habitat restoration projects on native mussels