Evaluating the influence of land use, drought and reach isolation on the occurrence of freshwater mussel species in the lower Flint River Basin, Georgia (U.S.A.)

Authors

  • COLIN P. SHEA,

    1. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, U.S.A.
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    • Present address: Colin P. Shea, Department of Biology, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN, U.S.A.

  • JAMES T. PETERSON,

    1. United States Geological Survey, Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, U.S.A.
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  • MICHAEL J. CONROY,

    1. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, U.S.A.
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  • JASON M. WISNIEWSKI

    1. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Nongame Conservation Section, Social Circle, GA, U.S.A.
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James T. Peterson, United States Geological Survey, Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, U.S.A. E-mail: jt.peterson@oregonstate.edu

Summary

1. North American freshwater mussels have been subjected to multiple stressors in recent decades that have contributed to declines in the status and distribution of many species. However, considerable uncertainty exists regarding the relative influence of these factors on observed population declines.

2. We used an occupancy modelling approach to quantify relationships between mussel species occurrence and various site- and catchment-level factors, including land cover, stream size, the occurrence of drought and reach isolation due to impoundment for 21 mussel species native to the lower Flint River Basin, Georgia, U.S.A.

3. Our modelling approach accounted for potential biases associated with both incomplete detection and misidentification of species, which are frequently not accommodated as sources of bias in freshwater mussel studies.

4. Modelling results suggested that mussel species were, on average, four times less likely to be present following severe drought, but the negative effects of drought declined rapidly with increasing stream size. Similarly, mussel species were 15 times less likely to occupy small streams that were isolated from mainstem tributaries by impoundments.

5. This study provides insight into the effects of natural and anthropogenic factors on freshwater mussel species. Our findings add to a growing body of literature aimed at improving understanding of the predominant factors influencing freshwater mussel populations and fostering the development of more informed and effective conservation strategies.

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