Evaluation of lethal and sublethal responses of dreissenid and unionid mussels to elevated carbon dioxide

Science Center Objects

Control technology for dreissenid mussels currently relies heavily on chemical molluscicides that can be both costly and ecologically harmful. There is a need to develop more environmentally neutral control tools to manage dreissenid mussels. Carbon dioxide has shown toxicity to several species of invasive bivalves, including zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) (Elzinga and Butzlaff 1994; McMahon et al. 1995; Glomski 2015). There is especially a need for control options that are effective in cooler water temperatures when impacts to nontarget species could be minimized.

We conducted a study in 2016 to evaluate the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on zebra mussels and a native unionid mussel at 12° C, a water temperature typical in late fall. We found that exposure for 96 h to 410 mg/L CO2 produced 80-100% mortality of zebra mussels while juvenile fat mucket (Lampsilis siliquoidea) mussels experienced no mortality. Carbon dioxide also prevented formation of byssal threads by both mussel species and caused attached zebra mussels to detach in 24 h when exposed to 110 mg/L CO2. Additionally, zebra mussels were narcotized by carbon dioxide within 24 h of exposure.

In the present study, we will expand the database on the effects of elevated carbon dioxide to zebra mussels and native unionid mussels in several aspects. The dose and time effect of carbon dioxide on byssal thread formation will be determined in the first trial by measuring changes in gene expression for byssal proteins. The results will be used to estimate an effective exposure concentration and duration for reducing attachment of zebra mussels. To simulate a control treatment during winter, the response of both mussel species to elevated carbon dioxide will be measured at a water temperature of 7°C.  Zebra mussels of two size groups (3-5 and 10-15 mm) will be tested to determine size-related differences in response to carbon dioxide. Juvenile plain pocketbook mussels (L. cardium) will be tested to determine the safety of elevated carbon dioxide to a second species of native mussel. 

Hypothesis: Adult zebra mussel (D. polymorpha) survival and byssal thread formation will be negatively correlated with increasing carbon dioxide concentration.


  1. Determine the dose and time response of byssal protein gene expression to elevated carbon dioxide.
  2. Compare the responses (survival, behavior, and byssus attachment) of zebra mussels and plain pocketbook juveniles to elevated carbon dioxide in a 96-h exposure at 7°C.
  3. Determine the toxicity of carbon dioxide to zebra mussels in 24, 48, 72 and 96 h exposures at 7°C.
Infested threeridge mussel

Infested threeridge mussel(Credit: Blake Sauey, USGS UMESC. Public domain.)



Cummings K and Mayer CA (1992) Field guide to freshwater mussels of the Midwest. Illinois Natural History Survey Manual . 194 pp

Elzinga WJ and Butzlaff TS (1994) Carbon dioxide as a narcotizing pretreatment for chemical control of Dreissena polymorpha. Proceedings of the Fourth International Zebra Mussel Conference, Madison, WI, USA, 1:45–59

Glomski, LM (2015) Zebra mussel chemical control guide. Version 2.0. U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Environmental Laboratory, Vicksburg, MS. ERDC/EL TR-15-9. http://acwc.sdp.sirsi.net/client/search/asset/1044633

McMahon RF, Matthew MA, Shaffer LR, Johnson PD (1995) Effects of elevated carbon dioxide concentrations on survivorship in zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and Asian clams (Corbicula fluminea).   In: Proceedings of 5th zebra mussel and other aquatic nuisance organisms conference, Toronto, ON, pp. 319-336