The only freshwater mussel species in the South West are in danger of extinction according to Murdoch University researchers.
Recent investigations into the Carter’s freshwater mussel have revealed a dramatic decline in numbers.
Over the last two years, Le Ma, a PhD student from Murdoch’s Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems, revisited 47 areas where the mussel was thought to be present, and found it had disappeared completely from 13 sites.
Professor Alan Lymbery said the findings were concerning.
“Freshwater mussels are known as a keystone species – they filter an enormous amount of water as they feed, removing tiny particles like plankton, algae and microorganisms,” he said.
“This improves water quality and increases the productivity of aquatic ecosystems.
“If this species is lost from our rivers and streams, there is nothing else that will carry out the same functions and that may have dramatic consequences for all freshwater life.
“Mussels play an important role in maintaining water quality in these pools.”
Professor Lymbery said part of the problem was that invertebrates, such as mussels, attracted less attention from the public and conservation agencies than larger, more charismatic animals.
“Carter’s freshwater mussel may not be as iconic or visible as species that command a lot of conservation attention, like numbats, whales and cockatoos, but they are vital to the health of our rivers,” he said.
“If we lose this mussel, then the way our freshwater ecosystems function will be changed dramatically.
Professor Lymbery said a number of actions can help prevent the extinction, including identifying remaining viable populations, protecting the habitat there and creating insurance populations.
“It may be possible to augment these existing populations with new generations or even replace populations that have been lost by releasing mussels bred in captivity, which is something that is done quite regularly in other parts of the world.”