Diversity, abundance, and size structure of bivalve assemblages in the Sipsey River, Alabama
1. Patterns of mussel diversity and assemblage structure in the Sipsey River, Alabama, are described. Qualitative data were used to describe river-wide patterns of diversity. Quantitative data were used to describe the structure of mussel assemblages at several sites based on whole-substrate sampling that ensured all size classes were detected. 2. Major human impacts to the stream are limited to apparent effects of coal mining in the headwaters and the impoundment of the lower 9 km of the river by a dam on the Tombigbee River. These impacts resulted in a sharp decline in mussel diversity in the headwaters, and extirpation or decline of populations of several large-river species in the lower river that were probably dependent on colonization from the Tombigbee River. 3. Despite localized impacts, mussel assemblages throughout much of the river appear to be mostly intact and self-sustaining. These assemblages have several attributes that differ substantially from those in more degraded streams: (1) high retention of historical species richness; (2) gradual, longitudinal increase in species richness from upstream to downstream, resulting in distinctive headwater and downstream assemblages; (3) ubiquity of most species within particular river segments; (4) low dominance and high evenness with large populations of many species; and (5) frequent recruitment for most species resulting in occurrence of individuals in many size classes. 4. Few detailed and demographically unbiased descriptions of relatively intact mussel assemblages exist. We propose that characteristics described in the Sipsey River can be used as a baseline comparison for assessing relative degree of assemblage alteration in other streams and can serve as goals for restoration efforts.