Freshwater mussels are a vital but often unrecognized component of many aquatic ecosystems. Mussels improve water quality and clarity, provide nutrients and living space for the aquatic invertebrates at the core of the food web, and are food for other wildlife. They are also culturally important to many Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. But freshwater mussels are the most imperiled wildlife in the world, and over 75% of North America’s species are listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern. Like our native salmonids, freshwater mussels are declining due to habitat degradation and fragmentation caused by dams, water pollution, and reduced streamflow.
Most people are unaware of the presence and importance of mussels in local waters, and staff of natural resource organizations often lack the resources to survey mussels, salvage them from restoration sites, or develop management plans. Conducting research with trained volunteers (citizen scientists) is an increasingly popular and successful model for gathering data while increasing public science education and connecting people with nature where they live and play. Xerces has used this model to develop effective protocols for volunteer-based mussel surveys. Our work has helped address existing gaps in capacity and education, but there are many opportunities to work with new partners in additional watersheds and across cultures. Native Freshwater Mussels in the Pacific Northwest is a guide to help those organizations in their restoration and conservation work.
*Though this guide was written for the Pacific Northwest, its principles are adaptable to any location.