Declines in the distribution, abundance, and diversity of freshwater-mussel species (family Unionidae1) have been reported worldwide (Bogan, 1993; Strayer and Jirka, 1997). The principal causes of the observed declines are difficult to confirm, however, because only a few of the many factors that affect mussel-species populations have been identified (Strayer and Ralley, 1993; Strayer, 1999; Baldigo and others, 2003; Strayer and others, 2006).
The Neversink River, which drains the Catskill Mountains in southeastern New York (fig. 1), contains seven species of mussels (Strayer and Ralley, 1991; Strayer and Jirka, 1997). Populations of the endangered dwarf wedgemussel (Alasmidonta heterodon) and the threatened swollen wedgemussel (Alasmidonta varicosa) coexist with other unionid mussels in the Neversink River (Strayer and Ralley, 1991, 1993; Baldigo and others, 2003). Dwarf wedgemussel populations had previously been found only downstream from the site of an abandoned dam in the lower part of the river at Cuddebackville (fig. 1), and swollen wedgemussels were only found in the lower and middle reaches of the river. The limited distribution of these two species suggests that they may be susceptible to local extinctions.
The distribution of mussel populations can be limited by impoundments. Mussel larvae develop in species-specific host fish; thus, impoundments that restrict passage of these host fish also restrict the extent of mussels. The Neversink River is impounded by the Neversink Reservoir [241 square kilometers (km2)], a major source of drinking water for the City of New York, and was also impounded 50 km downstream by the Cuddebackville Dam until 2004, when the latter was removed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve fish passage. The removal of this dam has provided previously unavailable habitat for diadromous and other fish species that act as hosts for rare mussel species. In addition, releases from the Neversink Reservoir that mimic the river?s original flow patterns have recently been proposed by TNC and could benefit the established mussel populations and aquatic communities. The ability to protect mussel populations and the potential to increase mussel richness in the Neversink River is unknown, however, because the environmental factors that affect the seven mussel species are poorly defined, and the distribution of mussel beds is patchy and thus difficult to quantify.
In 1997, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with TNC, began a 6-year study along the Neversink River and its tributaries to (1) document the current distribution of each mussel species, (2) assess environmental factors in relation to mussel-species richness and distribution, and (3) identify the factors that most strongly affect mussel populations and develop an equation that relates environmental factors to mussel-species richness. This report (a) summarizes the methods used to quantify or qualify environmental factors and mussel-species distribution and abundance, (b) presents a list of environmental factors that were correlated with mussel-species richness, and (c) offers an empirical model to predict richness of mussel species in benthic communities throughout the basin.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Relations of Environmental Factors with Mussel-Species Richness in the Neversink River, New York