Reproductive biology and phenology of western pearlshell mussels in Montana

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The Western Pearlshell mussel is the only native freshwater mussel inhabiting trout streams of western Montana; it has been designated a state Species of Concern because of declines in abundance and distribution. Conservation of Western Pearlshells in Montana will require fundamental information on their reproduction and life-history traits that is currently lacking. We therefore estimated the age and length at sexual maturity and incidence of hermaphroditism in mussels using histology. We determined the timing of reproductive events (spawning, brooding, embryogenesis, larval release, and larval infestation of hosts) and their relationship to temperature by collecting gonadal and marsupial biopsies to identify gamete presence and embryo developmental stages, visually identifying brooding mussels, and examining captured fish for the presence of mussel larvae. We identified the hosts of Western Pearlshells in nature by quantifying the probability of infestation and infestation intensities among salmonid species. Mussels reached sexual maturity at an estimated 34 mm in length and 11.5 years of age. Of 31 mature mussels examined histologically, all but one were gonadal hermaphrodites. The reproductive phenology of Montana Western Pearlshells differed among populations and years. Mussel populations brooded for about 24 to 39 days in May and June. Embryogenesis was synchronous among individuals in all populations except one and was about two to three weeks in duration. The larval infestation period generally occurred in June and July and was 47 to 71 days in duration. Some larvae grew > 400% in length before leaving the host. Gonadal recrudescence was rapid whereby mussels possessed mature or nearly mature gametes by early autumn. Both photoperiod and temperature appear to influence the timing of reproductive events. Native Westslope Cutthroat Trout and nonnative Brook Trout were the most susceptible fish species to infestation of Western Pearlshell larvae. Nonnative Brown Trout were moderately susceptible to infestation in the Flint-Rock watershed. Nonnative Rainbow Trout and native Mountain Whitefish were least likely to be infested with mussel larvae. Our findings will inform future conservation and propagation efforts of Western Pearlshells in Montana.




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