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U.S. Geological Survey science vision for native freshwater mussel research in the United States

September 6, 2023

Executive Summary

North America is a global center for native freshwater mussel (order Unionida, hereinafter “mussels”) diversity, with more than 350 species. Mussels are among the most imperiled fauna on the planet. Reasons for both local and widespread declines in mussels are mostly unknown, although the threats may include habitat loss and fragmentation, diseases, environmental contaminants, altered flow regimes, migration barriers to larval hosts, non-native species, and climate change.

Over the past three decades, research on mussels has been substantial. Nevertheless, current conservation and management efforts are limited by significant information gaps. For example, the effects of emerging stressors on mussels are largely unknown and identifying when habitats are rehabilitated and suitable for reestablishment of mussels remains challenging. Additionally, historical and current information on the distribution, taxonomy, and life histories are often unreliable or lacking altogether, and more reliable information is needed for many species.

We identified focal research themes, goals, and objectives where research on mussels is needed based on information gaps identified through conversations with resource partners across local, regional, and national organizations. Research on biodiversity seeks to enhance the diversity of mussel species and populations to support healthy aquatic ecosystems. Research on emerging stressors seeks to improve the understanding of how mussel species, populations, and communities respond to emerging stressors, including environmental contaminants and climate change. Research on conservation seeks to enhance the recovery of species and populations and to identify data gaps limiting the conservation of mussels and their habitats. Mussels are in urgent need of proactive conservation because they are an integral part of our natural heritage, enhance biodiversity, and provide vital ecological services that support freshwater ecosystems.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been, and continues to be, a leader in mussel research. Although the USGS is well suited to address the broad-scale multidisciplinary research needed to conserve mussels, the USGS has had substantial loss of scientists with mussel expertise over the past 20 years. However, the breadth of the USGS expertise on mussels can be leveraged internally across other USGS mission and program areas and externally across research partners. Given the breadth and scope of the issues facing mussels across the United States, the research themes outlined in this science vision can only be accomplished through extensive collaborations between the USGS and the full spectrum of natural resource partners, including other Federal and State agencies, Tribal organizations, universities, industries, and nongovernmental organizations.

Publication Year 2023
Title U.S. Geological Survey science vision for native freshwater mussel research in the United States
DOI 10.3133/cir1511
Authors Teresa J. Newton, Nathan A. Johnson, David H. Hu
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Circular
Series Number 1511
Index ID cir1511
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Office of the AD Ecosystems