FRESHWATER MUSSELS: SPANNING THE ORGANISMAL TO ECOSYSTEM LEVELS
ANDREA K. FRITTS
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Illinois Natural History Survey
Freshwater mussels are evolutionarily diverse with multistage life histories. They are also highly imperiled animals that hold some surprising secrets about changes in the environment. Mussels have a unique lifecycle in which the glochidia larvae must attach to a fish host in order to transform to the juvenile stage. This means that host determination research can bring to light new conservation concerns for endangered mussel species that rely on imperiled fish species as hosts. In addition, their shel ls can provide a unique opportunity to conduct investigations of historical changes in aquatic ecosystems. Mussels deposit annual growth rings in their calcareous shells, much like tree growth rings, so that shells from archeological and museum collections can serve as records of long-term environmental change over the past 1000 years. Because of the long and complex life cycle, these animal s can provide perspectives on issues ranging from endangered species biology to trends in environmental change.