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Using landscape ecology to understand freshwater mussel populations

Newton T.J., Woolnough D.A., and Strayer D.L., 2008, Using landscape ecology to understand freshwater mussel populations: Journal of the North American Benthological Society, v. 27, no. 2, p. 424-439.


Mussel populations and the environments they inhabit are heterogeneous and fragmented. We review 3 areas in which principles of landscape ecology might be applied to the scientific understanding and management of freshwater mussels. First, recent studies show that hydraulics can be used successfully to delineate patches of mussel habitat, but additional variables such as host fish, food, or predators are probably important under certain conditions. However, research on patch dynamics in freshwater mussels is in its infancy, and we do not know if existing methods to delineate patches are adequate. Second, mussel ecologists are starting to think about the importance of connectivity among habitat patches. Major challenges will be to determine whether connectivity can be estimated in the field and whether human activities that reduce connectivity (e.g., dams) have produced large extinction debts in mussel populations. Third, we need to better understand the links between events on the watershed (e.g., timing and amounts of water, nutrient, and sediment inputs) and the quality, extent, location, and connections among patches of mussel habitats. Because of its focus on patterns and processes, landscape ecology has the potential to improve scientific understanding and management of mussel populations and, in particular, to help define the best spatial scales for scientific studies and management activities.


landscape ecology, freshwater mussels, patches, connectivity, spatial scales, watershed processes, habitat.


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