In defence of the Quagga mussel

Quagga Mussel from Lake Michigan – image

Here we go again! Yet another successful species is being demonised and attacked and oppressed just because it is successful.

A species of freshwater mussel – the Quagga Mussel – is being targeted by so-called conservationists in Europe and the US as an “invasive” or “alien” species. Just because it is successful. Just because it has made the hazardous journey from its origins across hostile environments inhabited by unfriendly humans to establish itself in fresh-water bodies in the Great Lakes and now across Europe and the UK.

It originates in the drainage of the River Dnieper in Ukraine into the Black Sea. It lives only in freshwater and can tolerate brackish water but is killed by the salt in the sea water. It is edible for humans but overeating can lead to the concentration of some toxins. But somehow it has managed to get across the Atlantic to the Great Lakes and to many canals and rivers in Europe. Now it has been found in the UK. Fresh water species from the ponto-Caspian region (from the Black, Caspian, and Azov seas) have been observed to be spreading westwards for many years.

R Dnieper – map KidsBrittanica

A new paper has chosen a suitably alarmist title to get massive coverage today from the UK newspapers and radio.

Gallardo and Aldridge, Is Great Britain heading for a Ponto–Caspian invasional meltdown?, Journal of Applied Ecology  10/2014; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12348

The choice of alarmist vocabulary is itself off-putting. It suggests that the research is so unsound that it needs to be propped up by the language of the scandal-sheets!

“Alien”, “invasive”, “meltdown”, “catastrophic” are some of the words chosen. And not just mussels. They are accompanied by predatory, omnivorous, “killer shrimps”.

The GuardianAlien Quagga mussel may already have been joined by other invasive species

Scientists warn that the destructive mussel recently spotted in the UK, has probably been joined by additional undetected invaders, such as shrimp, that pose a threat to native wildlife.

A foreign mussel recently found for the first time in the UK is likely to have already been joined undetected by at least four other alien species that threaten native shrimp and fish, scientists warn on Monday.

The Quagga mussel (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis), which was found in the river Wraysbury on 1 October and can cover boat hulls and smother native mussels to death, is just one of a group of freshwater species that has been spreading westward from the Ponto-Caspian region in south-east Europe in recent years and which risk causing a “meltdown” as they invade Britain.

The south-east of England is most at risk from these invaders which can prey on native British freshwater species, substantially alter the ecology of waterways and wreak economic damage by blocking water pipes, according to a new study by a University of Cambridge team. …..

.. The study warns that the first wave of invaders, including the Quagga, are likely to act as a beachhead for further invaders from the Ponto-Caspian region, aiding their establishment. “Because there are so many of these organisms that have had a long evolutionary time to develop a cosy relationship with each other, what we’re finding is when they get over here they tend to facilitate each other,” said Aldridge.

Quagga mussels reached the Great Lakes some time ago


An increase in water clarity in Lake Michigan is actually cause for concern. The heightened clarity is due to quagga mussels, an invasive species. Gary Fahnsteil, a senior ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes field station in Muskegon, Mich., was a part of a group of scientists who measured Lake Michigan’s water quality.

Clear water is usually a welcome phenomenon; however, the 950 trillion quagga mussels are making Lake Michigan too clear to support aquatic life, especially for salmon and the other fish they consume. Fahnsteil and others consider quagga mussels to be the most detrimental of the 186 invasive species that occupy the Great Lakes. The mussels’ eating behavior wreaks havoc on the aquatic food chain at every level. In 2000, Great Lakes researchers discovered a phenomenon they called the doughnut in the desert,” a massive, ring-shaped bloom of aquatic plants that helps sustain aquatic animals that stay in the lakes during the winter. The bloom appears in March and April.

However, they also discovered that quagga mussels have taken a big bite out of the “doughnut.” As a result, the animals that rely on it face starvation in the winter. Furthermore, the fish that feed off of those species could starve as well.

Well with the entire scientific and alarmist bastions against them it doesn’t look good for the Quagga mussel. They are now one of the oppressed species. But I am rooting for them. Having traveled from Ukraine across oceans of hostile salt water, they deserve to enjoy all their successes.


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2 Responses to “In defence of the Quagga mussel”

  1. spike Says:

    As a ‘so-called conservationist’ (I love that turn of phrase, manages to be dismissive of a whole section of the scientific community without really explaining itself) I have often complained about the seeping of social and cultural arguments into what is a purely scientific one (OK, I say seeping, it pretty much dominates). And unfortunately it cuts both ways. Any debate about invasive species seems to encourage two knee jerk reactions: one from those with certain political affiliations to a party I will not deign to mention aligning the issue with human immigration and the counter-knee-jerk in the opposite direction, supporting the presence of alien species on the same cultural and political grounds. Neither argument is relevant. Invasive species, behind Habitat destruction, are the biggest cause of species extinction over the past century. Their increased movement and arrival in new habitats that are not adapted for them is generally due to human vectors (this has most likely arrived in ship ballast or some such). They are not plucky underdogs that have made the hazardous journey here in the hope of a bright new world of possibilities. They are not ‘successful’, they are just out of place. Should, for example, Kudzu or the Nile Perch be considered as ‘successful’ and left to it’s own devices?

    • ktwop Says:

      Thanks for commenting.
      To say that a species is “out of place” is a value judgement and not a scientific (logical) conclusion. It could be a logical conclusion if you start with the assumption that a species may not out-compete another species to extinction even if it is the best suited to survive in the environment it finds itself.
      However the Quagga mussel got to the Great Lakes, there is little doubt that it is better suited to survive in that environment than some of the other species there.
      I am generalising, but I find that the “conservationists” I have met, all claim to believe in the evolution of species but then make a case against the survival of the best suited species in every case where they wish to intervene whether it is to “protect” an “endangered” species or it is to to “destroy” a “pest”.

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