Does winterkill explain contrasting demographics of winter-breeding freshwater mussel populations in Ishikari River floodplain?

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Negishi, J.; Izumi, H.; Wu, J.; Fukui, S.; Koizumi, I.


1. Environmental conditions bottlenecking species population demographics are less known in cold regions with harsh winters despite of global concerns of declining freshwater mussels (Unionidae). Few studies examined both cold and summer environments in attempts to promote habitat conservation of Unionidae species. 2. We identified the taxonomically confused Unionidae species using phylogenetic analysis with mtDNA (COI region) and tested the hypothesis that winter mortality is the main cause of contrasting population demographics and structures in floodplain lakes in northern Japan. Demographic surveys were conducted in two lakes, which contrasted in recruitment rates, over one year including 4-month ice-covered periods 3. Although previous studies have identified freshwater mussels as introduced Anemina arcaeformis (Heude 1877) based on morphology, this study confirmed the focal species as potentially native Buldowskia iwakawai (Suzuki, 1939). High winter mortality (30-40%) of adult mussels was found, although the mortality did not significantly differ between the populations with contrasting recruitment. 4. Surprisingly, the annual mortality was much lower in juveniles (10%) than in gravid and nongravid adult individuals (40-75%). The main inter-population difference was attributed to the higher summer mortality of gravid females, but not juveniles and non-gravid individuals, in the population with low recruitment. 5. These results collectively suggest that summer hypoxia combined with physiological stresses on females in winter is a likely population growth-limiting mechanism. To prevent a chain of adult abundance decreases in winter and high mortality of gravid mussels and newly born juveniles in summer, improvements in summer habitat conditions are necessary, while winter conditions need to be considered simultaneously. Increases in water circulation rates and alleviations of hypoxic conditions is an option for short-term habitat improvement approach. The current study sheds light on the winter-mediated mortality of freshwater mussels in shallow eutrophic floodplain lakes and contributes to improved management strategies for degraded floodplain waterbodies.

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