Ecosystem Services Provided by Native Freshwater Mussels

Science Center Objects

Conservation and Restoration of Native Freshwater Mussels

Clean water is vital to public health, commerce, and recreation in the United States. Despite great efforts to reduce water pollution, many waters in the U.S. remain impaired. Having clean water not only supports considerable economic activity, but it also costs billions annually to maintain and provide. Freshwater mussels are avid filter feeders, and remove algae, sediment, nutrients, harmful bacteria, and metals from rivers and lakes. Because of this, mussels have been described as the “livers of our rivers”. This filter feeding activity is one of several ecological services that mussels provide to our lakes and rivers. However, the global declines in mussel populations may result in fewer ecological services being performed by mussels. Restoring native freshwater mussels to the nation’s rivers and streams is of growing interest to non-governmental organizations and Federal, state, and local management agencies as a potential strategy for improving water quality and aquatic ecosystem health. 

Shells of native mussels are used by other native organisms (i.e., caddisflies) as substrate

Shells of native mussels are used by other native organisms (i.e., caddisflies) as substrate

(Credit: Mike Davis, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Public domain.)

This pilot project seeks to quantify both the monetary and non-monetary benefits provided by native mussels in one reach of the Upper Mississippi River.

There are two objectives of this project: (1) to identify, quantify, and value key ecosystem services provided by freshwater mussels and (2) to compare rates of bio-filtration and conduct a cost effectiveness analysis between mussels and human-built infrastructure in select reaches along the upper Mississippi River (UMR). This effort will focus on reaches of the UMR where extensive mussel, water quality, and fish population data have been collected. These reaches also allow us to compare the biofiltration efficiency of the mussel community relative to the nearby Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in St. Paul, MN.  The table below shows preliminary estimates comparing the filtration capacity of native mussels in the UMR to filtration capacity at a large metropolitan wastewater treatment plant.

 

The table shows preliminary estimates comparing the filtration capacity of native mussels in the UMR to filtration capacity at a

The table shows preliminary estimates comparing the filtration capacity of native mussels in the UMR to filtration capacity at a large metropolitan wastewater treatment plant,

(Public domain.)