Stabilization of fluvial bed sediments by invasive quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis)

Author: Sanders H., Mason R. J., Mills D. N., Rice S. P.
Year: 2022
Digital Object Identifier:

Type: Journal Article
Topic: Biology, Ecosystem Impacts




River gravel mobility is an important control on river behaviour, morphology, and ecosystem processes. Gravel stability is dependent on abiotic flow and sediment properties, alongside less widely acknowledged biotic processes. The quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis), a highly invasive bivalve, frequently occurs at high population densities in rivers and lakes. Quagga mussels attach to benthic sediments using byssal threads, which might affect sediment stability and thereby broader river geomorphology. We aimed to (1) characterize controls of quagga mussel sediment attachment by conducting a field survey in an invaded river, (2) investigate resultant changes in the critical shear stress needed to entrain fluvial bed materials via an ex situ flume experiment, for measured average (135 m−2) and potential future (270 m−2) mussel densities, and (3) model how this may affect sediment transport rates. From field surveys, mean quagga mussel density was 122 m−2, attaching to an average of 591 g m−2 of mineral bed sediments. Across the survey reach, mussels attached to all grain sizes available, with attachment driven by grain availability, rather than active selection of particular grain sizes. In the ex situ flume experiment, densities of 135 mussels m−2 did not significantly increase the critical shear stress of fluvial bed materials, but a density of 270 mussels m−2 significantly increased critical shear stress by 40%. Estimates of the proportion of time these critical stresses are exceeded at the field site indicated high densities of quagga mussels may reduce the occurrence of a geomorphically active flood event from Q30 to Q2. These results present feasible invasion scenarios, as quagga mussels frequently reach benthic densities orders of magnitude greater than observed here. This study indicates that substantial alterations to bedload sediment transport may occur following quagga mussel invasion. Future geomorphic modelling should include biology to better understand rates and processes of landscape development.