1. Streams flowing from lakes which contain zebra mussels, Dreissena polymorpha, provide apparently suitable habitats for mussel colonization and downstream range expansion, yet most such streams contain few adult mussels. We postulated that mussel veligers experience high mortality during dispersal via downstream transport. They tested this hypothesis in Christiana Creek, a lake-outlet stream in south-western Michigan, U.S.A., in which adult mussel density declined exponentially with distance downstream. 2. A staining technique using neutral red was developed and tested to distinguish quickly live and dead veligers. Live and dead veligers were distinguishable after an exposure of fresh samples to 13.3 mg L-1 of neutral red for 3 h. 3. Neutral red was used to determine the proportion of live veligers in samples taken longitudinally along Christiana Creek. The proportion of live veligers (mean ?? SE) declined from 90 ?? 3% at the lake outlet to 40 ?? 8% 18 km downstream. 4. Veligers appear to be highly susceptible to damage by physical forces (e.g. shear), and therefore, mortality in turbulent streams could be an important mechanism limiting zebra mussel dispersal to downstream reaches. Predictions of zebra mussel spread and population growth should consider lake-stream linkages and high mortality in running waters.