Positive and Negative Effects of Zebra Mussels

Zebra mussels are one of the most insidious and invasive forms of mussels that have managed to invade all of North America, to the point that the local mussels are going extinct. These mussels are native to northern Europe but somehow they were introduced to the Great Lakes in 1988 and since then, they have spread to most of the large freshwater bodies located in North America. What makes the zebra mussels all the more dangerous is the speed with which they spread and the impact they have on the local ecosystem. Zebra mussels are known to populate ambient locations within a short time period and the moment they establish themselves, the local mussels die off. It can be hard to think of zebra mussels in glowing positive terms but it is time that we took a closer look at some of the positive and negative effects of zebra mussels.

Positive and negative effects of Zebra mussels

Positive Effects of Zebra Mussels

  • Plant growth: Zebra mussels can suck a litre of water through its tiny body, daily in their quest for plankton. It is this quest that had resulted in them clearing up most of the plankton and other contaminants floating on the surface and clearing up the water. In the process, this enables sunlight to reach the bottom of the lake which in turn enables active plant growth. Earlier on, the sunlight was blocked by plankton and other particulates but now, thanks to Zebra mussels most of this is cleared away and with plants having access to direct sunlight, they are able to grow faster and more luxurious than before.
  • Invertebrates: Zebra mussels often carpet the sandy floor, several inches thick and these mussel shells come handy in a place where various invertebrates are often preyed on by other fishes. Most of the invertebrates have taken to hiding among the mussels and since the mussel shells are sharp, most of the fish avoid the same for obvious reasons.
  • Pollution: As hard as it may be to believe, Zebra mussels are quite effective at removing various contaminants out of the water. These contaminants are often minuscule and hard to remove, but Zebra mussels suck nearly a litre of water each day in search of plankton. Invariably, they suck various contaminants such as PCB’s out of the lake. Thus the Zebra mussels provide an essential service by helping to mitigate pollution on the lake.

Negative Effects of Zebra Mussels

  • Plankton: Zebra mussels are voracious feeders; they focus only on plankton to the point that they are able to empty the entire lake of all plankton. A recent study highlighted the fact that a Zebra mussel population can empty nearly 80% of the plankton population in an extremely short time. That is disturbing indeed as it can affect the entire food chain and start a cascading effect by impacting other species that are dependent on the plankton for their very survival.
  • Nuisance: Zebra mussels are one of the most invasive forms of mussels; they can make their home almost anywhere from outlet valves to any available surface. They can foul up fuel lines, cause issues to crop up which can be both times to consume and expensive. Zebra mussels have been categorized as a nuisance.
  • Impact on the local ecosystem: There is an immediate impact on the local ecosystem; almost all life is impacted as a result of zebra mussels. Zebra mussels are able to consume a lot of algae in a ridiculously short amount of time and this is having a direct impact on the food chain. Apart from this, they are causing all the local mussel population to die off as well. And in the process, they are able to procreate and produce more zebra mussels and the process repeats. So yes, they have an immediate impact on the local ecosystem.

These are some of the positive and negative effects of Zebra mussels; some studies are being carried out on how to mitigate some of the negative effects to something that’s more manageable.  At this rate, it would be next to impossible to micromanage Zebra mussels. As much as you may want it, you cannot wish the Zebra mussels away, they are part of our reality and the sooner we learn to live with the lot, the better off we would all be.

Alan Behrens

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