freshwater pearl mussels


Scientists have made an important discovery in Scotland, finding critically-endangered freshwater pearl mussels in lochs for the first time.

While these mussels are known to inhabit Scottish rivers, the use of remotely-operated underwater drones and snorkelling equipment enabled researchers to locate them in two lochs, namely in Sutherland and the Trossachs.

The survey, conducted by NatureScot, revealed that the mussels likely entered the lochs by attaching themselves to the gills of host fish, such as trout or salmon. During their initial year of life, the mussels remain attached to the fish before becoming independent.

Freshwater pearl mussels are rare in Scotland, primarily due to factors such as illegal fishing, poor water quality, and habitat degradation. Being filter feeders, they are particularly vulnerable to water pollution and the impact of engineering activities in rivers. Consequently, the species is on the verge of extinction in certain rivers across Scotland.

NatureScot has taken the lead in conservation efforts to protect these mussels. Iain Sime, who headed the recent project, expressed his excitement about the findings, stating that while other mussel species are known to live and reproduce in Scottish lochs, there was no previous evidence indicating that pearl mussels did so regularly. The project marked an important initial step in exploring the lochs, and further surveys are planned to gain a better understanding of this critically-endangered species.

Sime emphasised the need to ascertain whether the mussels can breed in lochs and to study their relationship with host fish. Consequently, the research will contribute to extending conservation management advice for freshwater pearl mussels, encompassing both rivers and lochs.

This discovery sheds new light on the distribution and behaviour of freshwater pearl mussels, providing valuable insights for their conservation. Continued research and conservation efforts are crucial to safeguard the survival of this endangered species in Scotland.



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