Habitat Shift in Invading Species: Zebra and Quagga Mussel Population Characteristics on Shallow Soft Substrates

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Unexpected habitat innovations among invading species are illustrated by the expansion of dreissenid mussels across sedimentary environments in shallow water unlike the hard substrates where they are conventionally known. In this note, records of population characteristics of invading zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga (Dreissena bugensis) mussels from 1994 through 1998 are reported from shallow (less than 20 m) sedimentary habitats in western Lake Erie. Haphazard SCUBA collections of these invading species indicated that combined densities of zebra and quagga mussels ranged from 0 to 32,500 individuals per square meter between 1994 and 1998, with D. polymorpha comprising 75–100% of the assemblages. These mixed mussel populations, which were attached by byssal threads to each other and underlying sand-grain sediments, had size-frequency distributions that were typical of colonizing populations on hard substrates. Moreover, the presence of two mussel cohorts within the 1994 samples indicated that these species began expanding onto soft substrates not later than 1992, within 4 years of their initial invasion in western Lake Erie. Such historical data provide baselines for interpreting adaptive innovations, ecological interactions and habitat shifts among the two invading dreissenid mussel species in North America.

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