Mississippi River Mussels
Courtesy of INHS
Because mussels spend all of their time in the water, the health of mussels is intimately tied to the health of our rivers and streams. As river systems change by the introduction of dams, increased sedimentation, pollution, channelization, the introduction of non-native species to rivers, and a host of other factors, change also comes to the plants and animals that inhabit those environments. Many of these changes have not been good for native mussel populations. The Nature Conservancy estimates that 66% of mussel species in North America are at risk or already extinct. To put it another way, 2/3 of the 300 different kinds of mussels we should be able to find in North American lakes, rivers and streams are either declining or extinct. In Minnesota alone, 25 species of mussels are regarded as endangered, threatened, or of special concern.
But not all is gloom and doom for mussel populations. Recently, there have been some surprising and encouraging finds of rare species thriving where none were expected. As riverside environments are restored, mussel populations seem to be rebounding. New techniques for reproduction and re-introduction of mussel species to particular habitats are finding a ready and interested audience.
These pages consist of mussels that have been found in the 72-mile stretch of river within the boundaries of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, along with species that we hope to find and, unfortunately, some that once populated these waters but will not likely be seen again. The National Park Service is working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to identify the kinds and numbers of mussels that make this part of the river their home.
Did You Know?
At Lake Itasca, the elevation of the Mississippi River is 1,475 feet above sea level. It drops to sea level at the Gulf of Mexico. More than half of that drop occurs within the state of Minnesota.