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Exotic zebra mussels Dreissena polymorpha have infested and caused mortality of native unionids in the Great Lakes since 1986; no other such parasitism of native unionids occurs in North America. Survival of unionids threatened by zebra mussel infestation was tested by suspending uncleaned and cleaned unionids in nearshore waters of western Lake Erie. Survival was determined, and newly settled zebra mussels were removed from clean unionids at eight intervals that ranged from 21 d to 77 d between 5 July 1990 and 3 July 1991. After 1 year, survival rates of uncleaned and cleaned unionids were 0% and 42%, respectively. Of the 10 species examined, only indivduals from 3 species (Amblema plicata plicata, Fusconaia flava, and Quadrula quadrula) survived 1 year. These species have relatively thick shells, which may have contributed to their survival. Removal of newly settled zebra mussels may be important to unionid survival because 98% of the zebra mussels removed after the initial cleaning were small mussels (<10 mm long) that could rapidly grow and cover unionids. At present, we do not know how zebra mussels cause mortality of unionids, but the removal of zebra mussels from unionids is the only method known that successfully reduces unionid mortality in waters colonized by zebra mussels.
Additional Publication Details
Mitigation of unionid mortality caused by zebra mussel infestation: cleaning of unionids