Habitat degradation and the decline of the threatened mussel Margaritifera margaritifera: influence of turbidity and sedimentation on the mussel and its host.

Published online
04 Aug 2010
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Österling, M. E. & Arvidsson, B. L. & Greenberg, L. A.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Nordic Countries & Sweden


Habitat degradation is a major reason for species extinctions. For parasite-host interactions, the decline of a parasite may not only be related to the parasite's tolerance to habitat degradation but also indirectly through the host's tolerance to the same disturbance. Our objective was to explore the cause of population declines of the freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera by relating the age distribution, density and growth of the mussels with turbidity, sedimentation rates and density of the mussel's host, trout Salmo trutta, in 26 Swedish streams. An analysis of the age structure of nine mussel populations showed that maximum age differed by 60 years, with five populations having low proportions of juvenile mussels. Adult mussel density was higher at sites where juvenile mussels occurred than at sites lacking juvenile mussels. Growth of adult mussels during the past 10 years was lower in the five streams lacking recent recruitment than in the four streams with recent recruitment, indicating that some environmental factor may be negatively impacting these populations. A comparison among 24 populations indicated that turbidity and sedimentation may be responsible for recruitment failure in 58% of the populations. The age of the youngest mussel was positively related to turbidity and sedimentation, and juvenile mussel density was negatively related to turbidity and sedimentation. In contrast, trout density was not related to recruitment of mussels or sedimentation, but was positively related to turbidity in all streams, both with and without recent mussel recruitment. Synthesis and applications. Recruitment failure of M. margaritifera appears to be related to its own vulnerability to turbidity and sedimentation rather than to its host's response to this type of habitat degradation. The results from our study suggest that managers might be able to evaluate the potential viability of mussel populations by measuring stream turbidity. Restoration activities to improve the mussels' environment should focus on reducing fine material transport into streams.

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