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Open Access Open Badges Research

Effects of flow restoration on mussel growth in a Wild and Scenic North American River

Brandon J Sansom14*, Daniel J Hornbach23, Mark C Hove3 and Jason S Kilgore1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Washington and Jefferson College, Washington, PA, USA

2 Department of Environmental Studies, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN, USA

3 Department of Biology, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN, USA

4 Current address: Oklahoma Biological Survey and Department of Biology, University of Oklahoma, 111 East Chesapeake St, Norman, OK, 73019, USA

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Aquatic Biosystems 2013, 9:6  doi:10.1186/2046-9063-9-6

Published: 1 March 2013



Freshwater mussels remain among the most imperiled species in North America due primarily to habitat loss or degradation. Understanding how mussels respond to habitat changes can improve conservation efforts. Mussels deposit rings in their shell in which age and growth information can be read, and thus used to evaluate how mussels respond to changes in habitat. However, discrepancies between methodological approaches to obtain life history information from growth rings has led to considerable uncertainty regarding the life history characteristics of many mussel species. In this study we compared two processing methods, internal and external ring examination, to obtain age and growth information of two populations of mussels in the St. Croix River, MN, and evaluated how mussel growth responded to changes in the operation of a hydroelectric dam.


External ring counts consistently underestimated internal ring counts by 4 years. Despite this difference, internal and external growth patterns were consistent. In 2000, the hydroelectric dam switched from operating on a peaking schedule to run-of-the-river/partial peaking. Growth patterns between an upstream and downstream site of the dam were similar both before and after the change in operation. At the downstream site, however, older mussels had higher growth rates after the change in operation than the same sized mussels collected before the change.


Because growth patterns between internal and external processing methods were consistent, we suggest that external processing is an effective method to obtain growth information despite providing inaccurate age information. External processing is advantageous over internal processing due to its non-destructive nature. Applying this information to analyze the influence of the operation change in the hydroelectric dam, we suggest that changing to run-of-the-river/partial peaking operation has benefited the growth of older mussels below the dam.

Unionidae; Annuli; Growth processing methods; Hydroelectric dam; Flow regulation