Biology, Captive Propagation, and Feasibility of Pearl Culture in the Pink Heelsplitter (Potamilus Alatus) (Say, 1817) (Bivalvia: Unionidae)
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Pink heelsplitter (Potamilus alatus) mussels collected from Kentucky Lake, TN were held at two bottom locations (0.6 m, 2.5 m) and suspended in pocket nets (at depth about 1.0 - 1.5 m) in a pond at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center (FMCC), Virginia Tech, for 1 yr. Survival of mussels after 1 yr was significantly different, with poorest survival (30 %) in the bottom of the deep end; and no difference between the shallow end (83.3 %) and the suspended pocket nets (63.3 %). Survival of mussels was inversely related to water temperature (r = - 0.72); lowest monthly survival occurred in summer, resulting in a significant difference among the three locations with a similar trend after 1 yr. The glycogen reserves of mussels in captivity for 1 yr differed by pond location, higher in mussels at the shallow end than those in suspended pocket nets and at the deep end. Therefore, the shallow end of pond was more suitable for holding mussels long-term, while the suspended pocket nets are an alternative site for holding captive mussels. Additionally, dissolved oxygen was very low at the deep end (1.9 mg/L) in summer, while it was adequate (range from 5.7 - 6.4 mg/L) at the location of suspended pocket nets, and 5.0 mg/L at the shallow end (24.7 â ).
Data for 40 specimens indicated that sexual dimorphism in valve shape occurred in P. alatus. Female mussels had a significantly (p < 0.0001) greater ratio of height (H) to length (L) (52.3 %) and width (W) to length (31.8 %) than males (H/L: 48.4 %; W/L: 28.8 %), respectively. The posterior ends were somewhat round to oval in males and bluntly squared or truncated in females. Female mussels were more inflated than males. These morphological differences can be used to distinguish females from males during field collections.
The red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) was identified as a new fish host for P. alatus, as 48 active juveniles were transformed by this species, which is not a natural host. Four glochidia were observed on the fins versus 2,307 on the gills of five red drum. Freshwater drum also was verified as a suitable host fish, but black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), banded sculpin (Cottus carolinae), yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and nile tilapia (Oreochromis nilotica) did not support transformation of glochidia to juveniles.
Survival and growth of propagated juveniles of P. alatus were assessed regarding the effects of algal diets (Nannochloropsis oculata and Neochloris oleoabundans) and substrate type (fine sediment and sand). Overall, survival of juveniles after 17 d ranged from 23.8 to 66.8 %, with mean of 48.5 %; however, survival dramatically declined during the next 2 wk period to only 5.8 % (range of 1.8 to 7.8 %). Survival rate of juveniles was significantly different (p = 0.027) between substrates, but not in diets (p = 0.520), with the lowest survival rate of 23.8 % in sand substrate and fed N. oculata. Juveniles grew faster in fine sediment (23.0 % increase in shell length) than in sand substrates (10.5 % increase) (p = 0.002). Moreover, mean growth rate of juveniles was 4.9 μm/d during the first 2 wk, but decreased to 0.2 μm/d in the remaining 2 wk. Therefore, fine sediments seemed more appropriate for juvenile culture compared to sands. Both species of algae, N. oculata and N. oleoabundans, can be used to feed juveniles in the laboratory.
Adult pink heelsplitters were used to study feasibility of pearl production by using two surgical implants (non-nucleated implant = NNI, and image pearl implant = IPI) in two ponds of different nutrient levels (FMCC pond and Duck pond). NNI and IPI pearls with purple or purplish luster were successfully produced in P. alatus. Pearl weight was not significantly different (p = 0.562) between two ponds. No differences in monthly survival rates of mussels were observed in either pond (p = 0.051), or among mussels with surgical implants and the no-surgery control mussels (p = 0.881). Consequently, P. alatus can be considered a potential species for producing purple pearls in pearl culture. Additionally, mussels in the Duck pond had higher (p < 0.0001) glycogen levels, similar to those in wild collected mussels, than those in the FMCC pond, indicating that this pond environment may be more suited for holding implanted mussels in captivity.
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