, Volume 735, Issue 1, pp 123–136 | Cite as

Spatio-temporal distribution patterns of three stream-dwelling freshwater mussel species: towards a strategy for representative surveys

  • Alexandra Zieritz
  • Juergen Geist
  • Bernhard Gum


Conservation efforts for freshwater mussels (Unionoida) require a priori assessments of their populations’ status quo. Unfortunately, collection of representative census and other data for most European species is currently hampered by an insufficient understanding of inter- and intra-specific variation in distribution patterns. We assessed distribution and movement in three Unio crassus populations and one sympatric population of Anodonta anatina and Unio pictorum, respectively. We surveyed vertical movement across four sediment depths, and horizontal movement by mark-recapture technique in 3-month intervals. For all the populations, movement and the proportion inhabiting surface layers increased considerably from winter to spring/summer. Spatial aggregation levels remained stable for some populations, while others became increasingly randomly distributed during the study. One U. crassus population exhibited elevated mortality and displayed movement rates exceeding twice those of conspecific populations. The visible proportion of U. crassus populations differed by up to 69% between sites. Current monitoring guidelines in Europe often insufficiently account for the extensive inter- and intra-specific differences in spatio-temporal distribution patterns observed. We suggest developing internationally standardised protocols that specify sampling season and methodology. In particular, U. crassus surveys should be restricted to summer months, and hand-sampling is crucial for some populations.


Burrowing behaviour MARK analysis Monitoring Movement behaviour Population survey Unionidae 



The authors thank S. Lois, M. Hoppe, F. Bauer, H. Schneider, J. Brandner, S. Beggel and V. Huber for fieldwork assistance. Governmental, nature conservation, and fisheries authorities (in particular K. Neugebauer) kindly provided support and licences required for this study. A. Z. was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The project was financially supported by the ‘Bayerisches Landesamt für Umwelt’ (LfU).


  1. Allen, D. C. & C. C. Vaughn, 2009. Burrowing behavior of freshwater mussels in experimentally manipulated communities. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 28(1): 93–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altmueller, R. & R. Dettmer, 2006. Erfolgreiche Artenschutzmaßnahmen für die Flussperlmuschel Margaritifera margaritifera L. durch Reduzierung von unnatürlichen Feinsedimentfrachten in Fließgewässern – Erfahrungen im Rahmen des Lutterprojekts [in German]. Informationsdienst des Naturschutz Niedersachsen 26: 192–204.Google Scholar
  3. Amyot, J.-P. & J. A. Downing, 1991. Endo- and epibenthic distribution of the unionid mollusc Elliptio complanata. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 10(3): 280–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Amyot, J.-P. & J. A. Downing, 1997. Seasonal variation in vertical and horizontal movement of the freshwater bivalve Elliptio complanata (Mollusca: bivalvia). Freshwater Biology 37: 345–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Amyot, J.-P. & J. A. Downing, 1998. Locomotion of Elliptio complanata (Mollusca: Unionidae): a reproductive function? Freshwater Biology 39: 351–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Balfour, D. L. & L. A. Smock, 1995. Distribution, age structure, and movement of the freshwater mussel Elliptio complanata (Mollusca: Unionidae) in a headwater stream. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 10: 225–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bogan, A. E., 1993. Freshwater bivalve extinctions (Mollusca: Unionoida): A search for causes. American Zoologist 33: 599–609.Google Scholar
  8. Bovjerg, R. V., 1957. Feeding related to mussel activity. Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science 64: 650–653.Google Scholar
  9. Burla, H., H.-J. Schenker & W. Stahel, 1974. Das Dispersionmuster von Teichmuscheln (Anodonta) im Zuerichsee [in German with English abstract]. Oecologia 17: 131–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burnham, K. P. & D. R. Anderson (eds), 1998. Model Selection and Inference: A Practical Information Theoretical Approach. Springer, New York.Google Scholar
  11. Clark, P. J. & F. C. Evans, 1954. Distance to nearest neighbour as a measure of spatial relationships in populations. Ecology 35: 445–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cyr, H., 2009. Substrate and fetch affect the emergence of freshwater mussels from lake sediments. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 28: 319–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dickson, T. L., 2000. A comparison of stream segment and quadrat mussel sampling techniques. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 71: 42–49.Google Scholar
  14. Engel, H., 1990. Untersuchungen zur Autoekologie von Unio crassus (Phillipson) in Norddeutschland [in German]. Doctoral thesis, Universitaet Hannover.Google Scholar
  15. Forstwirtschaft, B. L. W. & B. L. Umwelt, 2006. Erfassung und Bewertung von Arten der FFH Richtlinie in Bayern – Flussperlmuschel (Margaritifera margaritifera). 5.Google Scholar
  16. Geist, J., 2010. Strategies for the conservation of endangered freshwater pearl mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera L.): a synthesis of Conservation Genetics and Ecology. Hydrobiologia 644(1): 69–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Geist, J., 2011. Integrative freshwater ecology and biodiversity conservation. Ecological Indicators 11: 1507–1516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Geist, J. & K. Auerswald, 2007. Physicochemical stream bed characteristics and recruitment of the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera). Freshwater Biology 52: 2299–2316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gough, H. M., A. M. Gascho-Landis & J. A. Stoeckel, 2012. Behaviour and physiology are linked in the responses of freshwater mussels to drought. Freshwater Biology 57: 2356–2366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gum, B., M. Lange & J. Geist, 2011. A critical reflection on the success of rearing and culturing juvenile freshwater mussels with a focus on the endangered freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera L.). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 21: 743–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hazay, J., 1881. Die Mollusken-Fauna von Budapest. Malakozoologische Blätter 4: 132–208.Google Scholar
  22. Hornbach, D. J. & T. Deneka, 1996. A comparison of a qualitative and a quantitative collection method for examining freshwater mussel assemblages. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 15: 587–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hornbach, D. J., M. C. Hove, B. D. Dickinson, K. R. MacGregor & J. R. Medland, 2010. Estimating population size and habitat associations of two federally endangered mussels in the St. Croix River, Minnesota and Wisconsin, USA. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 20(3): 250–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lebreton, J. D., K. P. Burnham, J. Clobert & D. R. Anderson, 1992. Modeling survival and testing biological hypotheses using marked animals: a unified approach with case studies. Ecological Monographs 62: 67–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lewandowski, K. & A. Stanczykowska, 1975. The occurrence and role of bivalves of the family Unionidae in Mikolajskie Lake Poland. Ekologia Polska 23(2): 317–334.Google Scholar
  26. Lewis, J. B. & P. N. Riebel, 1984. The effect of substrate on burrowing in freshwater mussels (Unionidae). Canadian Journal of Zoology 62: 2023–2025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Meador, J. R., J. T. Peterson & J. M. Wisniewski, 2011. An evaluation of the factors influencing freshwater mussel capture probability, survival, and temporary emigration in a large lowland river. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 30: 507–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Negishi, J. N., H. Doi, I. Katano & Y. Kayaba, 2011. Seasonally tracking vertical and horizontal distribution of unionid mussels (Pronodularia japanensis): implications for agricultural drainage management. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 21(1): 49–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Negus, C. L., 1966. A quantitative study of growth and reproduction of unionid mussels in the River Thames at Reading. Journal of Animal Ecology 35: 513–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Österling, M. E., B. L. Arvidsson & L. A. Greenberg, 2010. Habitat degradation and the decline of the threatened mussel Margaritifera margaritifera: influence of turbidity and sedimentation on the mussel and its host. Journal of Applied Ecology 47(4): 759–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Perles, S. J., A. D. Christian & D. J. Berg, 2003. Vertical migration, orientation, aggregation, and fecundity of the freshwater mussel Lampsilis siliquoidea. Ohio Journal of Science 103(4): 73–78.Google Scholar
  32. Pfeiffer, M. & K.-O. Nagel, 2010. Looking, feeling, digging – strategies and methods for the mapping of the thick-shelled River Mussel. Naturschutz und Landschaftsplanung 42(6): 171–179.Google Scholar
  33. Pooler, P. S. & D. R. Smith, 2005. Optimal sampling design for estimating spatial distribution and abundance of a freshwater mussel population. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 24(3): 525–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Saarinen, M. & J. Taskinen, 2003. Burrowing and crawling behaviour of three species of Unionidae in Finland. Journal of Molluscan Studies 69: 81–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schneider, H., 2011. Habitatcharakterisierung funktionaler Bachmuschelvorkommen (Unio crassus) in Fließgewässern Bayerns [in German]. MSc thesis, Technische Universität München.Google Scholar
  36. Schwalb, A. N. & M. T. Pusch, 2007. Horizontal and vertical movements of unionid mussels in a lowland river. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 26: 261–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith, D. R., R. F. Villella & D. P. Lemarie, 2001. Survey protocol for assessment of endangered freshwater mussels in the Allegheny River, Pennsylvania. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 20(1): 118–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Smith, D. R., J. T. Rogala, B. R. Gray, S. J. Zigler & T. J. Newton, 2011. Evaluation of single and two-stage adaptive sampling designs for estimation of density and abundance of freshwater mussels in a large river. Rivers Research and Applications 27: 122–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Strayer, D. L. & D. R. Smith, 2003. A guide to sampling freshwater mussel populations. American Fisheries Society Monograph 8: 1–103.Google Scholar
  40. Taeubert, J. E., B. Gum & J. Geist, 2012. Host-specificity of the endangered thick-shelled river mussel (Unio crassus, Philipsson 1788) and implications for conservation. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 22: 36–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Taurer, M. M. & R. A. Patzner, 2008. Untersuchungen zur Mobilitaet heimischer Grossmuscheln der Familie Unionidae [in German]. Carinthia II 198: 435–448.Google Scholar
  42. Troia, M. J. & N. B. Ford, 2010. Notes on habitat and burrowing behavior of Obovaria jacksoniana (Bivalvia: Unionidae) in the upper Neches River of east Texas. The Texas Journal of Science 62: 195–204.Google Scholar
  43. Valovirta, I., 2009. Monitoring of the freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) in Finland. The Finnish Environment 12: 56–57.Google Scholar
  44. Vaughn, C. C. & C. C. Hakenkamp, 2001. The functional role of burrowing bivalves in freshwater ecosystems. Freshwater Biology 46: 1431–1446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Vicentini, H., 2005. Unusual spurting behaviour of the freshwater mussel Unio crassus. Journal of Molluscan Studies 71: 409–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Villella, R. F., D. R. Smith & D. P. Lemarié, 2004. Estimating survival and recruitment in a freshwater mussel population using mark-recapture techniques. American Midland Naturalist 151: 114–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Watters, G. T., S. H. O’Dee & S. Chordas, 2001. Patterns of vertical migration in freshwater mussels (Bivalvia: Unionoida). Journal of Freshwater Ecology 16: 541–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. White, G. C. & K. P. Burnham, 1999. Program MARK: survival estimation from populations of marked animals. Bird Study 46: 120–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Willing, M. J., 2011. Surveys for the Depressed River Mussel Pseudanodonta complanata at selected locations in Staffordshire A report for The Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. 42.Google Scholar
  50. Young, M., L. Hastie & S. Cooksley, 2003. Monitoring the freshwater pearl mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera conserving Natura 2000 Rivers, Monitoring Series No 2. English Nature, Peterborough. 18.Google Scholar
  51. Zajac, K. & T. Zajac, 2011. The role of active individual movement in habitat selection in the endangered freshwater mussel Unio crassus Philipsson 1788. Journal of Conchology 40: 446–461.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra Zieritz
    • 1
    • 3
  • Juergen Geist
    • 1
  • Bernhard Gum
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Aquatic Systems Biology Unit, Department of Ecology and Ecosystem ManagementTechnische Universität MünchenFreisingGermany
  2. 2.Fachberatung für FischereiBezirk OberbayernHaarGermany
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations