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Annual winter water level drawdowns limit shallow-water mussel densities in small lakes

June 7, 2019
  1. Regulated water level fluctuations alter the physical, chemical, and biological environments in lakes. However, few studies have measured the effects of repeated annual winter drawdowns on freshwater mussel populations (Bivalvia: Unionida), and it is unknown whether drawdowns permanently constrain mussel populations to deeper depths or are resilient to the annual disturbance.
  2. We quantified mussel densities during normal water levels and their mortality after the initiation of drawdown in lakes with annual winter (December–March) water level drawdown regimes that have existed for several decades. We used systematic quadrat sampling and visual snorkel surveys to estimate the number of live mussels at the surface and buried, and shell length in six drawdown and three control lakes at exposed (0.5-m) and unexposed (1-m) depths during winter drawdown. We also estimated mortality of mussels along the exposed lakebed for nine drawdown lakes.
  3. Study lakes were dominated by Elliptio complanata and Pyganodon cataracta. During normal water levels, mussel densities were much lower in drawdown lakes than control lakes at 0.5-m depths. When mussels were present in drawdown lakes at 0.5-m depths, they were often burrowed in the substrate and smaller than buried mussels in control lakes. At unexposed 1-m depths, mussel densities were primarily explained by geographic region (western versus central Massachusetts), and found higher densities in drawdown lakes compared to control lakes.
  4. Mussel mortality after a single drawdown event in nine drawdown lakes was not correlated with drawdown magnitude or rate. Concordance of shell length-frequency distributions between dead and buried living mussels in drawdown lakes suggests annual mortality of colonising individuals, which are typically small and presumably of young cohorts.
  5. Annual winter drawdowns still limit densities of E. complanata and P. cataracta in shallow-water habitats in the following autumn (September–October) after 4–5 months of potential recovery, and hence constrain their distribution in lakes exposed to drawdowns. The development of sustainable water level management practices will be essential to minimise impacts to native mussel populations.
Publication Year 2019
Title Annual winter water level drawdowns limit shallow-water mussel densities in small lakes
DOI 10.1111/fwb.13324
Authors Allison H. Roy, Jason R. Carmignani, Peter D. Hazelton, Holly Giard
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Freshwater Biology
Index ID 70223306
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Leetown