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Evaluation of freshwater mussel relocation as a conservation and management strategy

January 1, 2012

The relocation of unionacean mussels is commonly used as a conservation and management tool in large rivers and streams. Relocation has been used to recolonize areas where mussel populations have been eliminated by prior pollution events, to remove mussels from construction zones and to re-establish populations of endangered species. More recently, relocation has been used to protect native freshwater mussels from colonization by the exotic zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha. We conducted a literature review of mussel relocations and evaluated their relative success as a conservation and management strategy. We found that 43% of all relocations were conducted because of construction projects that were forced to comply with the Endangered Species Act 1973 and that only 16% were monitored for five or more consecutive years. Most (43%) relocation projects were conducted from July to September, presumably a period when reproductive stress is relatively low for most species and the metabolic rate is sufficient for reburrowing in the substrate. The mortality of relocated mussels was unreported in 27% of projects; reported mortality varied widely among projects and species and was difficult to assess. The mean mortality of relocated mussels was 49% based on an average recovery rate of 43%. There is little guidance on the methods for relocation or for monitoring the subsequent long-term status of relocated mussels. Based on this evaluation, research is needed to develop criteria for selecting a suitable relocation site and to establish appropriate methods and guidelines for conducting relocation projects.