Misidentification of sex for Lampsilis teres, Yellow Sandshell, and its implications for mussel conservation and wildlife management
Authors: Megan C. Hess, Kentaro Inoue, Eric T. Tsakiris, Michael Hart, Jennifer Morton, Jack Dudding, Clinton R. Robertson, Charles R. Randklev
Correct identification of sex is an important component of wildlife management because changes in sex ratios can affect population viability. Identification of sex often relies on external morphology, which can be biased by intermediate or nondistinctive morphotypes and observer experience. For unionid mussels, research has demonstrated that species misidentification is common but less attention has been given to the reliability of sex identification. To evaluate whether this is an issue, we surveyed 117 researchers on their ability to correctly identify sex of Lampsilis teres (Yellow Sandshell), a wide ranging, sexually dimorphic species. Personal background information of each observer was analyzed to identify factors that may contribute to misidentification of sex. We found that median misidentification rates were ~20% across males and females and that observers falsely identified the number of female specimens more often (~23%) than males (~10%). Misidentification rates were partially explained by geographic region of prior mussel experience and where observers learned how to identify mussels, but there remained substantial variation among observers after controlling for these factors. We also used three morphometric methods (traditional, geometric, and Fourier) to investigate whether sex could be more correctly identified statistically and found that misidentification rates for the geometric and Fourier methods (which characterize shape) were less than 5% (on average 7% and 2% for females and males, respectively). Our results show that misidentification of sex is likely common for mussels if based solely on external morphology, which raises general questions, regardless of taxonomic group, about its reliability for conservation efforts.