Development of a diet for rearing juvenile freshwater mussels

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Virginia Tech


Over 100 species of freshwater mussels (Unionidae) are endangered or threatened in the United States, and another dozen species support a declining commercial harvest of shells for the cultured pearl industry in Asia. Because of these Significant declines in abundance, a study was undertaken to develop a diet for rearing juvenile mussels, with the goal of long-term propagation of rare species. Three trials were conducted to test various tri-algal and commercial diets and to determine the influence of silt in survival and growth of the rainbow mussel (Villosa iris) and giant floater (Pyganodon grandis).

After 45 days post-metamorphosis, juvenile V. iris fed algae with silt exhibited a two-fold increase in shell length (532 μm), and 63.5% survival. Juvenile P. grandis exhibited similar results at 45 days post-metamorphosis. In comparison, all juvenile mussels fed algae without the presence of silt exhibited no increase in shell length after 45 days post-metamorphosis. However, survival varied between species. Survival after 45 days was 5.0% for V. iris and 43.3% for P. grandis. P. grandis is probably more tolerant of a variety of environmental conditions. Analysis of covariance showed that growth rate over time (120 days) of P. grandis was significantly greater than that of V. iris.

Shell lengths of P. grandis juveniles fed algae in the substrates kaolin, sterilized silt, sterilized silt plus Aqua Bacta-Aid, and bacteria-colonized silt were Similar, indicating that bacteria were not essential to juvenile digestion or nutrition. Shell lengths of V. iris juveniles fed algae in kaolin or algae in bacteria-colonized silt also were similar after 60 days. Juvenile mussels appear to be pedal-feeding for approximately 120 ± 30 days, depending on the species; hence, silt probably serves as a physical substratum for pedal-feeding mussels to collect food particles.

Subsequent tests indicated that growth was significantly correlated with algae high in oils which contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). V. iris juveniles fed a tri-algal diet, consisting of Neoehloris oleoabundans~ Phaeodactylum tricornutum, and Bracteacoccus grandis (NPB), with silt substratum showed the best growth over time. Individuals achieved a mean shell length of 1747 μm and had 30.0% survival after 140 days postmetamorphosis. All other tri-algal diets tested enhanced growth over the commonly used green tri-algal mix of Chlorella, Ankistrodesmus, and Chlamydomonas (CAC), and all algae diets enhanced growth over a silt-only diet. Commercial yeast diets did not support growth.

After 272 days post-metamorphosis, V. iris fed CAC in silt achieved a maximum shell length of 4520 μm (17-fold increase in length), with a mean length of 2968 μm and approximately 5% survival. After 195 days postmetamorphosis, P. grandis achieved a maximum shell length of 7846 μm (22- fold increase in length), with a mean of 4877 μm and approximately 12% survival.

Results of all feeding trials indicate that algae are a suitable food source for rearing early juvenile freshwater mussels. A tri-a1gal diet high in oils resulted in greater growth than all other diets tested. Resident bacteria in riverine sediments were not essential to growth and survival of juvenile mussels. Silt provided some nutritional value, but primarily served as a physical substratum for pedal-feeding juveniles.