Biodiversity on the brink: an assessment of conservation strategies for North American freshwater mussels
The North America freshwater mussel fauna has suffered an inordinately high recent extinction rate, and the small size and isolation of many remaining populations portends a continued diminishment of this fauna. Causes of extinction and imperilment are varied but revolve around massive habitat loss, deterioration, and fragmentation. The National Strategy for the Conservation of Native Mussels, published in 1997, has guided efforts to address this crisis. Considerable progress has been made toward several of the Strategies’ goals, particularly increasing our knowledge of mussel biology, promoting mussel conservation, and development of techniques for captive mussel propagation. However, mussel conservation should focus more directly on reducing fragmentation through bold and aggressive habitat restoration. In addition to dam removal, improvement in dam tailwater flows, and restoration of channelized streams, identification of factors that eliminated mussels from many otherwise intact streams is critical. Translocation and captive propagation will be key elements in reestablishing mussel assemblages in restored habitats, but these techniques should be used with caution and primarily to increase the occurrence of a species throughout its historical range. Conserving mussel diversity in an ever-changing world is dependent on promoting the natural, long-term sustainability and evolutionary potential of mussel populations.