When and how? Freshwater mussel recolonization in Lake Orta

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Nicoletta Riccardi *
Elsa Froufe
Manuel Lopes-Lima
Claudio Mazzoli
(*) Corresponding Author:
Nicoletta Riccardi | n.riccardi@ise.cnr.it

Abstract

Thanks to a video posted on a social network, live mussels of Unio elongatulus, have been recorded from Lake Orta (Italy) over one century after the last (and only) report. With its long and well documented history of pollution, Lake Orta offers the opportunity to document the post-extirpation recovery of freshwater unionid mussels. This case evidences that recovery/recolonization is possible despite a high devastation in the past, and permits to evaluate how fast recolonization may occur, in which way, and in what conditions.  The answer to the 'how fast' was sought by estimating the age of the larger and seemingly older individuals of the population. To address the 'in which way' we compared the haplotypes of Lake Orta specimens of Unio elongatulus (the only species present) with those of surrounding populations. We concluded that, since Lake Orta lacks a direct connection with the putative source populations, colonizing mussels were almost certainly transported by fish carrying glochidia that were used for lake restocking after liming. Data from the long-term monitoring of water chemistry and sediments have allowed defining what conditions proved to be suitable for survival making possible the start of mussels recovery. But not only water and sediment quality matters for mussels recovery, which was delayed by nearly ten years after the reappearance of fish. This delay reflects the need of the whole trophic chain to be reestablished to allow the survival of the suitable and healthy host-fish populations necessary for mussels reproduction.

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