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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center


Intrinsic Variability in Shell and Soft Tissue Growth of the Freshwater Mussel Lampsilis siliquoidea

Larson JH, Eckert NL, Bartsch MR., 2014,  Intrinsic Variability in Shell and Soft Tissue Growth of the Freshwater Mussel Lampsilis siliquoidea. PLoS ONE v 9, i 11, e112252. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0112252


 Freshwater mussels are ecologically and economically important members of many aquatic ecosystems, but are globally among the most imperiled taxa. Propagation techniques for mussels have been developed and used to boost declining and restore extirpated populations. Here we use a cohort of propagated mussels to estimate the intrinsic variability in size and growth rate of Lampsilis siliquoidea (a commonly propagated species). Understanding the magnitude and pattern of variation in data is critical to determining whether effects observed in nature or experimental treatments are likely to be important. The coefficient of variation (CV) of L. siliquoidea soft tissues (6.0%) was less than the CV of linear shell dimensions (25.1–66.9%). Size-weight relationships were best when mussel width (the maximum left-right dimension with both valves appressed) was used as a predictor, but 95% credible intervals on these predictions for soft tissues were ~145 mg wide (about 50% of the mean soft tissue mass). Mussels in this study were treated identically, raised from a single cohort and yet variation in soft tissue mass at a particular size class (as determined by shell dimensions) was still high. High variability in mussel size is often acknowledged, but seldom discussed in the context of mussel conservation. High variability will influence the survival of stocked juvenile cohorts, may affect the ability to experimentally detect sublethal stressors and may lead to incongruities between the effects that mussels have on structure (via hard shells) and biogeochemical cycles (via soft tissue metabolism). Given their imperiled status and longevity, there is often reluctance to destructively sample unionid mussel soft tissues even in metabolic studies (e.g., studies of nutrient cycling). High intrinsic variability suggests that using shell dimensions (particularly shell length) as a response variable in studies of sublethal stressors or metabolic processes will make confident identifications of smaller effect sizes difficult.


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