Monday 11 January 2016

The status quo on Europe's mussels

First study on freshwater mussel stocks in 26 European countries

Date:January 8, 2016
Source:Technical University of Munich (TUM)

Mussels are the natural treatment plants of bodies of water and, therefore, just as important as bees. Unfortunately, they are equally threatened: most of the world's mussel stocks are in decline and some species face extinction. For this reason, scientists from 26 European countries have compiled the first comprehensive survey on the status quo of freshwater mussel species in Europe. TUM Professor Juergen Geist and two colleagues from Porto coordinated the project and can now provide recommendations for the future protection of the species.

It may not always be obvious due to their concealed way of life, but mussels are among the most endangered species in the world. Very little was known about the status quo of mussel fauna up to now, as there was no information available on the stock sizes of this underwater organism. The varying surveying methods used by different countries exacerbated the problem. A catalogue of the 16 freshwater mussel species found throughout Europe will now be published for the first time in the journal 'Biological Reviews'. The project was coordinated by researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal and the Technical University of Munich (TUM).

A pivotal role bodies of water

The survey's three main authors, Manuel Lopes-Lima and Ronaldo Sousa from the Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research (CIMAR) and Professor Jürgen Geist / Chair of Aquatic Systems Biology at TUM, describe how crucial mussels are for aquatic ecosystems: they form around 90 percent of the biomass in the bed of a water body. In addition, mussels filter the water and have a major influence on the water quality as a result. "Because a single mussel filters up to 40 liters of water per day," reports Professor Geist, "we humans also benefit from the ecosystem services provided by mussels." When the hard-shelled animals keep a body of water clean, more invertebrate organisms tend to join them there. Due to their crucial role in the aquatic habitat, the extinction of these small natural treatment plants in rivers and lakes would have serious impacts on the aquatic habitat.

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