- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A variety of native mussel species once wiped out by pollution are making a comeback on the Upper Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The mussels suffered when sewage, industrial waste and farm runoff began tainting the river. But about 15 years ago, biologists discovered some native mussels were starting to return thanks to efforts to improve water quality, Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1NAHju1 ) reported.

“Mussels are kind of like the canary in a coal mine,” said Tamara Smith, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “When mussels are doing poorly, that’s a sign that the water quality isn’t doing well. When they’re doing well, that’s a good sign and it’s also good for humans.”

The mussels play an important role in the aquatic food web because they capture organic matter that’s later consumed by fish and other animals, according to researchers. They essentially filter and “cleanse the water,” said Bernard Sietman, a mussel biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Both Smith and Sietman are involved in an effort aiming to reintroduce several types of native mussels to the Mississippi River, including three federally listed endangered species: the Higgins’ eye, the snuffbox and the winged mapleleaf. The reintroductions, which began in 2004, involve biologists from several agencies who monitor the mussels’ rate of survival every few years.

“It’s good to be able to go back and relocate stuff that we’ve put out in the river, because a lot happens in this river over the course of a year,” said National Park Service aquatic biologist Byron Karns after he exited the river wearing scuba gear. “But it seems like really good habitat. There’s tons of other mussels down there. If I had been collecting everything that bag would have been full.”

Though researchers are glad to see reintroduced mussels are surviving, the ultimate goal is to see them multiplying.

“You know that you have been successful when you find the evidence of new babies,” Karns said.

This year and in 2011, researchers have found signs that the Higgins’ eye mussels are reproducing.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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