The present study was conducted to determine impacts of zebra mussel [Dreissena polymorpha (Pallas, 1771); Dreissenidae] infestation on unionids in firm substrata in western Lake Erie. Unionid mollusks were collected at a total of 15 stations on three offshore depth contours (2, 3, and 4 m) in 1983 (before zebra mussel infestation), in 1990 and 1993 (after zebra mussel infestation), and at one station on a nearshore 2-m depth contour and along one transect on a nearshore 1-m depth contour in 1993. Numbers of living unionids on substrata along offshore contours remained similar between 1983 and 1990 and then decreased from 97 individuals in 1990 to only five individuals in 1993. In addition, the number of species decreased from nine to four between 1990 and 1993. In contrast, on nearshore contours 85 living individuals representing nine species were found in 1993. About 48% of the living and 79% of the dead unionids at the two nearshore locations were covered with byssal threads of dreissenid mussels, but were not actively infested by mussels. The presence of living unionids on nearshore contours of western Lake Erie in 1993 indicates that survival of unionids in the presence of abundant zebra mussel populations can be possible in firm substrata and that these habitats can provide natural ''refugia'' for unionid populations. At present, we do not know what allows unionids to survive in the presence of zebra mussel colonization, but believe that water-level fluctuations and waves could contribute to the removal of mussels from unionids. This information could be of major concern in the mitigation of impacts of infestation on unionids in waters throughout North America.
Additional publication details
Zebra mussel induced mortality of unionids in firm substrata of western Lake Erie and a habitat for survival