Characterization of the Mussel Microbiome: Assessment of Microbe Biodiversity Across Species, Individuals, and Environmental Compartments.

Science Center Objects

Conservation and Restoration of Native Freshwater Mussels

There has been substantial research on mussels in many areas, however, methods to estimate the overall health of mussels has received less attention. Assessing mussel health is difficult due to the lack of established benchmarks by which to judge what is suitable or normal. A mussels’ body is full of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that are collectively known as the microbiome. Understanding the mussel microbiome may inform why some efforts to restore mussel communities fail while others succeed. The development of non-lethal diagnostic tools to assess mussel health prior to restoration may avoid harming existing populations and may minimize risks to existing populations and habitats. This study will explore the biodiversity of the mussel microbiome—among species and tissues—within a presumably healthy mussel assemblage in the Upper Mississippi River (UMR). This will provide baseline information on mussel health that can be used assist in propagation and restoration efforts.

The objective of this study is to characterize the microbiome of mussels across species, individuals, and environmental compartments in a mussel assemblage in the UMR. The microbiome will provide relevant information on management decisions and activities, including:

  1. What are the dominant bacterial and fungal species that characterize the microbiome of native mussels?
  2. Does the microbiome vary across species and individuals?
  3. How much do microbiomes vary across environmental (i.e., sediment, overlying water, porewater) and biological (i.e., foot, excurrent siphon, gill, hemolymph or plasma) components?
  4. Can microbiome diversity and community composition be used to develop a criteria of mussel assemblage health?

This objective will be met using Next Generation sequencing techniques to screen for bacterial and fungal diversity across and within species to capture the diversity of the microbial community in a stable mussel assemblage.


Images of field sampling to quantify the microbiome of four species of native freshwater mussels in a side channel of the UMR

Images of field sampling to quantify the microbiome of four species of native freshwater mussels in a side channel of the Upper Mississippi River: (a) sampling location in West Newton Chute, Pool 5, (b) supplies needed to take microbiome samples, (c) sampling the hemolymph (fluid analogous to blood in vertebrates) of a threeridge mussel for microbiome analyses. Images courtesy of Teresa Newton, USGS.

A. Sampling location for mussel microbiome research, Pool 5, UMR

B. Microbiome supplies

C. Sampling hemolymph from a threeridge mussel

(Credit: Teresa Newton, USGS-Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center. Public domain.)