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Mussels as Sensors

Endangered freshwater mussels being put into the Mississippi River.

Endangered freshwater mussels being put into the Mississippi River.

As filter feeders, mussels serve as an early warning system for pollutants and sediments in Mississippi River, much like the “canary in the coal mine.” Native freshwater mussels perform essential ecological functions in aquatic systems. They can influence nutrient cycling, because they transfer nutrients from the water column to the riverbed. The mussels require constant low velocity flows over stable substrates (sand, gravel, and cobbles). The heavy flow of pollutants and/or sediments causes the sensitive mollusks to shut down. Mussels can also store nutrients in their tissues for long periods.  Where mussels are densely populated, they may hold significant concentrations of nutrients. These characteristics make mussels an excellent research subject for projects focusing on large-river systems, or in controlled environments in the lab.

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Last modified on June 24th, 2015
Posted on September 11th, 2013

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