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Mussel mass mortality and the microbiome: Evidence for shifts in the bacterial microbiome of a declining freshwater bivalve

September 17, 2021

Freshwater mussels (Unionida) are suffering mass mortality events worldwide, but the causes remain enigmatic. Here, we describe an analysis of bacterial loads, community structure, and inferred metabolic pathways in the hemolymph of pheasantshells (Actinonaias pectorosa) from the Clinch River, USA, during a multi-year mass mortality event. Bacterial loads were approximately 2 logs higher in moribund mussels (cases) than in apparently healthy mussels (controls). Bacterial communities also differed between cases and controls, with fewer sequence variants (SVs) and higher relative abundances of the proteobacteria Yokenella regensburgei and Aeromonas salmonicida in cases than in controls. Inferred bacterial metabolic pathways demonstrated a predominance of degradation, utilization, and assimilation pathways in cases and a predominance of biosynthesis pathways in controls. Only two SVs correlated with Clinch densovirus 1, a virus previously shown to be strongly associated with mortality in this system: Deinococcota and Actinobacteriota, which were associated with densovirus-positive and densovirus-negative mussels, respectively. Overall, our results suggest that bacterial invasion and shifts in the bacterial microbiome during unionid mass mortality events may result from primary insults such as viral infection or environmental stressors. If so, bacterial communities in mussel hemolymph may be sensitive, if generalized, indicators of declining mussel health.