March 2, 2011


Native mussels found in Lake Erie despite zebra mussel impacts

Ann Arbor, MI — What was once thought lost, has now been found. Researchers from the University of Toledo, Cleveland State University and Central Michigan University have discovered native mussels living in nearshore, open-lake areas of Lake Erie’s western basin.

It was once feared the larger native species were incapable of coping with the invasion of zebra mussels and their cousins, the quagga mussels, due to the invader’s habit of attaching to the native’s shells and preventing their feeding. This was particularly troubling due to the ecological significance of the native mussels, as they filter sediment and nutrients from the water column and deposit it within the bottom sediments (as opposed to the surface of the bottom, as do zebra mussels) among a host of other habits beneficial to the ecosystem.

The research team documented six sites where native mussels occurred in the nearshore of the lake. The populations they examined consist of live individuals from two to eight species (of a total sixteen species found), several of which have conservation status in the states of Ohio and Michigan, and the province of Ontario.

Perhaps more peculiar than the findings was one of the methods used: in the fall, west winds can create such extremely low water levels that the western shoreline is exposed (called a seiche) for as far as 200 meters or greater into the lake. By walking the exposed bottom, the researchers were able to easily find and document where the native mussels were living despite the low densities (estimated at about 1 mussel for every 10m2). Finding mussels would normally be very difficult with suspended silt obscuring the view.

While the mechanism for the native mussels’ persistence has yet to be determined, the researchers are very hopeful that these findings will spur additional research in the region to help improve the quality of the Lake.

Original Publication Information

Results of this study, "Unionid mussels from nearshore zones of Lake Erie," are reported by Todd D. Crail, Robert A. Krebs and David T. Zanatta in the latest issue (Volume 37, No. 1, pp. 199-202) of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, published by Elsevier, 2011.


For more information about the study, contact Todd Crail, Department of Environmental Sciences, MS 604, The University of Toledo, 2801 W. Bancroft Street, Toledo, OH 43606;; (419) 386-6668.

For information about the Journal of Great Lakes Research, contact Stephanie Guildford, Scientific Co-Editor, Large Lakes Observatory, University Minnesota Duluth, 2205 East Fifth Street, Duluth, Minnesota, 55812-2401;; (218) 726-8064.

Since 1967, IAGLR has served as the focal point for compiling and disseminating multidisciplinary knowledge on North America's Laurentian Great Lakes and other large lakes of the world and their watersheds. In part, IAGLR communicates this knowledge through publication of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, available to members in print and electronic form. A searchable archive of the journal is available online and includes the abstracts of articles from the journal's inception in 1975 through the most recent issue. In addition, complete articles are available to members who have signed up for an electronic subscription.