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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Native Mussels

Team Members

Native mussels (photo by Mike Davis, MN DNR)photo of Upper Mississippi River (USGS photo)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:

  • Identify factors limiting the distribution and abundance of freshwater mussels in the UMR basin to provide managers with conservation and restoration procedures and strategies. This currently includes a focus on:
    • Identifying suitable habitat for mussels
    • Identifying food sources and critical dietary needs for mussels
  • Determine the status of the mussel community in the Upper Mississippi River
  • Evaluate the effects of habitat rehabilitation projects on native mussel populations
Generalized Mussel Population Model

Current Projects

Factors limiting mussel distributions

Status of the mussel community

Evaluation of habitat restoration projects on native mussels

Past Projects

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