Authors: Charles R. Randklev, Michael A. Hart, Jennifer M. Khan, Eric T. Tsakiris, Clinton R. Robertson

Spatiotemporal variability in flow determines the physical structures of habitat. During low flows, aquatic organisms can be exposed to reduced dissolved oxygen concentrations, increased water temperature, and desiccation, whereas at high flows, increased velocity and hydraulic forces on the streambed can be equally detrimental. These constraints create a mosaic of habitat that influences the distribution and abundance of aquatic biota. This mosaic can change due to stochastic events or those mediated by humans. Understanding how low and high flow conditions affect aquatic organisms is critical not only for advancing ecological knowledge but also for protecting imperiled aquatic species such as unionid mussels. The overall goal of this project was to examine how substrate and hydrologic conditions affect mussel habitat and to then use the resulting information combined with life‐history traits and shell morphology (i.e., sculpturing) to better understand how flow shapes mussel assemblage structure. Using quantile regression, we found that low values of relative shear stress (RSS), a measure of substrate stability, were associated with high mussel species richness and density. Change point analysis using threshold indicator taxa analysis (TITAN) indicated species‐specific preferences for varying levels of bed stability. These preferences were best explained by life‐history strategy and shell morphology based on the results of a principal component analysis. Using these results, we then present a conceptual model from which to derive expectations concerning taxonomic composition, life‐history strategy, and shell sculpture type based on the degree of substrate mobility using RSS and variability in RSS.

Suggested Citation

Randklev, C.R., M.A. Hart, J.M. Khan, E.T. Tsakiris, and C.R. Robertson. 2019. Hydraulic requirements of freshwater mussels (Unionidae) and a conceptual framework for how they respond to high flows. Ecosphere 10: e02975.