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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Arb Notes: Mussels in the Cannon

<t’s right; mussels don’t only live in the ocean. There is a biologically unique set of freshwater mussels that live in fresh lakes and streams most everywhere. In fact, our very own Cannon River is host to 15-18 of the nearly 300 species of mussels in North America.

Mussels provide both a food source for animals such as raccoons as well as habitat for algae and insect larvae. They also “clean” the water of less than stellar particles and chemicals as a result of their feeding practices. Mussels can be particularly interesting to researchers because they are good indicators of environmental degradation in waterways.

Mussels in North America, including the Cannon, have experienced a difficult history. Most of the decline of mussel populations has resulted from human activities such as increased runoff from agricultural practices, causing sedimentation of their habitats and dams, and isolating groups of the same species. Since young mussels depend on fish as hosts during their early stages, dams that block fish movement can cut off a population from a necessary component of their reproduction. Another cause of population loss is the over-harvesting of mussels for pearl collection from the late nineteenth century up until World War II.

In addition to pearls, the shells of mussels were used to make buttons and jewelry prior to the rise of the plastics industry. These detrimental effects have been responsible for the extirpation (localized extinction) of some mussel species in the Cannon. That said, there are still a number of interesting species (with interesting names) of mussels in the Cannon such as the Pink Heelsplitter.
So, next time you walk along the banks of the Cannon, think about all those silent creatures of the silt. Enjoy the days of fall as the arb prepares itself for the coming months of cold.

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