Intraspecific life history variation in the threatened Louisiana pearlshell mussel, Margaritifera hembeli

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1. Margaritifera hembeli is a threatened mussel limited to twenty-two headwater streams in the Red River drainage in central Louisiana, USA. This study evaluated intraspecific variation in density, growth, size and age structure and shell morphology among several isolated populations. This study also identified the host fish and considered the role that host fish distribution played in determining mussel recruitment. 2. Mussels were aggregated in beds and average densities differed among streams. However, maximum mussel densities in beds were similar in all streams; the observed maxima were among the largest for monospecific mussel beds in North America, often exceeding 300 individuals m-2. 3. The maximum size reached by individuals differed among streams, but all size distributions were skewed towards larger individuals. A repeated measures analysis of tagged mussels in four populations, over a 2-year period, indicated 2-fold differences in growth rates among streams, and significant variation among years. Growth rates were not affected by local population density. Maximum ages reached, determined indirectly by comparing growth rates, varied from 45 to 75 years. A canonical discriminant analysis also revealed significant differences in shell morphology across populations. 4. Half of the populations showed evidence of recent recruitment, and these sites had fish assemblages dominated by the host fish Noturus phaeus (Taylor). Host fish abundance appeared more important than adult mussel density in explaining recruitment patterns. 5. Considerable intraspecific life history variation suggests that management strategies for this species should be stream-specific, with emphasis on ensuring long-term habitat stability.

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Freshwater Biology

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