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La Crosse fish biologist asking for help


September 16, 2020

Cashton High School graduate, Eric Leis (Fish Biologist, La Crosse Fish Health Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) asks if people are out canoeing the Kickapoo or boating on the Mississippi to keep an eye out for dying mussels.

Freshwater mussels are among both the most biodiverse and imperiled groups of animals in the world - 70% of North America’s 298 mussel species are considered endangered, threatened or vulnerable (and many species have gone extinct). They provide critical ecosystem services through filtering out pollutants as well as bacteria and viruses from our streams (and have been referred to as Nature’s Brita Filter.

Leis is asking for help from the public in locating similar mortality events and would also like to highlight the ecological importance of freshwater mussels (give people are reason to care about them because they are pretty awesome animals!!)

“These mortality events are very difficult to spot and help from the public would go a long way in helping us determine the cause of such events,” he said.

Someone observing a mortality event would see mussels laying on their sides, gaping and unable to close their shells. Healthy mussels are typically half buried in the sediment and are partially open while they feed but they quickly close their shell when disturbed. For unknown reasons, these mortality events have tended to occur (and recur) during the fall of the year.

“So far this year, mortality events have been reported to our group from OR, WA, IL, and MN.”

Another interesting point about mussels, Leis added, is that wherever mussel populations abound, these waterbodies also support excellent fisheries. They are good indicators of a healthy ecosystem.

“That we know of,” large scale mussel mortality events have not occurred on the Mississippi since the 1980’s. “Like I said, mortality events can be difficult to observe.”

“If people would see a mussel mortality event, they could email me at [email protected] or call (608) 783-8440.”


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