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Kidneys of the River

Freshwater mussels (Unionidae) are of extreme importance to an aquatic ecosystem’s function and health. Probably the most well-known ecosystem service that mussels provide is ‘cleaning up the water.’ They are filter feeders; meaning they get their nutrients from straining small organisms and particles out of the water. Some species are even being reintroduced to areas of poor water quality, in hopes of decreasing the sediment and pollution load. One adult mussel can filter approximately 20 gallons of water a day! Now, think of the impact a large, healthy population of mussels could have on a river ecosystem!

Unfortunately, it is estimated that 70% of mussel species in North America are listed as: of special concern, threatened, endangered or extinct. Freshwater mussels are particularly sensitive to changes in their environment because of their limited mobility and complex life cycles involving fish hosts. Anthropogenic (man-made) changes to our land and rivers such as pollution, dams and water extraction, decline the diversity, abundance and range of these organisms. Increased sedimentation and pollution from agriculture and industry degrades water quality so much that mussels cannot thrive…

(May 1, 2018)

Lampsilis bracteata (Texas fatmucket) from the San Saba River, Texas. Photo by Megan Hess