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Native mussels play an important role in both river and human communities. In rivers, native mussels filter water and recycle nutrients to support a healthy ecosystem. In tribal communities, mussels are a cherished “First Food”.

Native mussels play an important role in both river and human communities. In rivers, native mussels help with ecosystem health functions such as water filtration and nutrient cycling. Native mussels also play an important role in tribal communities. In the Columbia River Basin, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) recognizes the native mussels as one of their “First Foods”. First Foods are categories of foods with significant historic, cultural, and ecological value to the CTUIR people, such as fish, big game, roots, and berries. Seeing a management approach through the lens of First Foods allows us to appreciate the value of lesser-known species and their important role in both ecosystem and culture.

Native mussels are in a precipitous decline across North America, including the Pacific Northwest. Little is currently known about the basic biology and ecology of these hidden and but important species. At the same time, invasive bivalves such as the quagga and zebra mussels and the Asian clam threaten to disrupt ecosystems and cause economic harm. As changes in climate alter the land and water landscapes, concerns have been raised to the future health and success of native mussels.

Over the next few years, our USGS Western Fisheries Science Center scientists will partner with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Washington State University  to collect and summarize data on the distribution, abundance, and condition of native freshwater mussels and invasive clams, as well as their habitat characteristics such as temperature, sediment, stream slope, flow, prey resources, competitors, and host species in the Columbia River Basin as part of a study funded by the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (NW CASC). Western Fisheries Research Center scientists will then use this information to develop models describing how the combination of climate change and the presence of invasive clams will affect the survival of native mussels in the Pacific Northwest. The results will be used to identify specific actions to protect native mussels.

Our scientists are also working with USGS staff across the country to finish a national strategic vision for science that supports the viability of freshwater mussels.

To learn more about the NW CASC project, visit Projects - Climate Adaptation Science Centers (

Two mussel biologists snorkeling
Two mussel biologists snorkeling in a river in Eastern Oregon during a long-term monitoring survey to track mussel population trends.

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