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A comparison of bacteria cultured from unionid mussel hemolymph between stable populations in the upper Mississippi River and a mortality event in the Clinch River

December 19, 2019

The diagnosis of bacterial disease in freshwater unionid mussels has been hindered by a lack of baseline information regarding the microbial communities associated with these animals. In this study, we cultured and identified bacteria from the hemolymph of stable mussel populations from the upper Mississippi River basin and compared results to those from mussel populations experiencing a mortality event in the Clinch River, VA and TN. Several bacterial genera were consistently identified across mussel species and locations, appearing to be part of the natural bacterial flora. One noteworthy bacterial species was identified from the Clinch River: Yokenella regensbergei. Y.regensbergei occurred in relatively high prevalence during the mortality event but was absent from samples acquired after the mortality event. Its role, if any, in the mortality event is unknown but deserves further investigation. We suggest that future studies of freshwater mussel health incorporate hemolymph as a sample type due to its relative separation from the aquatic environment, its role in the circulatory system and the fact that it can be collected nonlethally.