In 1996, thousands of live Leptodea fragilis were collected from a marsh located in the western basin of Lake Erie that was infested with zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). Despite the presence of zebra mussels at this site for a number of years, this L. fragilis population showed no signs of competition-induced changes in population dynamics. Biofouling was limited: fewer than 1% of the L. fragilis showed evidence of recent or past zebra mussel colonization. Successful recruitment occurred yearly, with multiple year classes collected that ranged in age from 1 to 12 years. However, age and shell length were not well correlated. Seventy-one percent of the individuals collected were 51-80 mm long, but ranged in age from 2 to 4.5 years. Three different patterns of growth or shell deposition were found. Some individuals grew rapidly, reaching 105 mm in 3.5 years, while others grew only 4.5 mm over the same time period. A few grew poorly during some years but very rapidly in others. Individuals with a shell length of 41 mm or more were sexually mature and females were more common than males. The strong recruitment and steady growth of this population showed no change between the years before and after the zebra mussel invasion, indicating that this marsh is functioning as a natural refugium from potential problems caused by zebra mussels.
Additional publication details
Co-existence of zebra mussels and freshwater unionids: Population dynamics of Leptodea fragilis in a coastal wetland infested with zebra mussels