An Evaluation of the Survival and Growth of Juvenile and Adult Freshwater Mussels at the Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC), Marion, Virginia
The decline of many freshwater mussel populations in the United States has brought about the need for facilities in which mussels can be held for purposes of relocation, research, and propagation. The Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) serves as a freshwater mussel conservation facility in southwest Virginia. The goals of this study were: (1) to determine whether adult freshwater mussels could maintain energy reserves at AWCC (2) to determine whether adults could produce mature gametes at AWCC and (3) to establish suitable rearing conditions for juvenile mussels at the AWCC. In fall 2002, four species of mussels, Villosa iris, V. vanuxemensis, Amblema plicata, and Pleurobema oviforme, served as surrogates for endangered species and were relocated to the AWCC. Three energy reserves (glycogen, protein, and lipid) were measured seasonally (fall 2002 to summer 2004) from mantle tissue and compared between AWCC specimens and those from their wild source populations. The gametogenic stage of each species was also compared to determine whether gametogenesis was occurring in captivity. In summer 2003, the first of two juvenile experiments tested the effects of three rates of water flow (1 L/min, 3 L/min, and 7 L/min) on the survival and growth of V. iris and Epioblasma capsaeformis reared in flow-through troughs. In summer 2004, round flow-through tanks were used to assess the effects of three sizes of substrate (fine sediment, fine sand, and coarse sand) and sampling frequency on the survival and growth of V. iris. Gut content analyses also were conducted at the end of each experiment to determine which algal species were being consumed. Overall survival rates were as follows: A. plicata, 100 %; V. vanuxemensis, 86 %; V. iris, 79 %; P. oviforme (2002 collection), 53 %; and P. oviforme (2003 collection), 50 %. All energy reserves varied among seasons, but every species except P. oviforme (2003 collection) had levels higher than those in source populations at the end of this experiment. Glycogen appeared to be the best indicator of condition in these species, with protein also being important in the 2003 collection of P. oviforme. Mature gametes were found in all four captive species in 2003 and 2004, with lipids appearing to fuel gametogenesis. Additionally, gametogenesis was occurring earlier in captive long-term brooders than in the wild, possibly due to warmer water temperatures at AWCC. The first juvenile experiment resulted in 15 % overall survival, with 1 L/min having the greatest survival (18 %), and the 3 L/min having the greatest growth (656 µm). In the second experiment, dishes left unsampled had significantly greater survival (40 %) (P<0.05) of juveniles than those which were sampled (27 %). The unsampled fine sand treatment had significantly greater survival than the other two unsampled treatments (52 %) (P<0.001). Sampled juveniles in fine sediment had the greatest growth (887 µm). Also, juveniles from Experiment 1 were consuming primarily Navicula, with Coelastrum and Chlorella consumed in greatest abundance in Experiment 2. Results indicate that most adult mussels maintained energy reserves and produced mature gametes, and that juveniles of V. iris had good survival and growth. Only P. oviforme had survival rates lower than expected and did not appear to maintain condition at AWCC. Based on results of the species tested, environmental conditions at AWCC appear suitable for the survival of most adult and juvenile freshwater mussels.