Strong mussel, weak muscle

  • Blog Post by: Jim Williams
  • August 23, 2013 - 1:49 PM

 Zebra Mussels, because of the way they change the biology of lakes they invade, should be of concern to birders.

Fishermen, boaters, lakeshore owners, conservation officials, and elected officials are not the only people who should give thought to this problem. The lakes that birds use today are used because those lakes meet particular bird needs. It’s unlikely that those needs will change as quickly as the mussels spread.

And spread they will.

Tom Nelson is president of the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations. He writes on today’s (Friday) StarTribune editorial page about invasive species, focusing on Zebra Mussels. He calls “generally dismal” the response of Minnesota boaters to a request for compliance with laws intended to halt or at least limit spread of the invader from lake to lake.

 he DNR recently announced that three more Minnesota lake chains now have Zebra Mussels. That brings the total number of infected lakes to something over 160.

In 2011 I interviewed a biologist very familiar with the incredible, massive invasion of Lake Michigan by Zebra Mussels. Thomas Nalepa works at the Great Lake Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In our conversation I asked him to estimate the number of Zebra Mussels that cover the bottom of Lake Michigan shore to shore.

He had done some quick math on this, multiplying known per-square-yard concentrations of the mussel by the area of the lake. He came up with 900 trillion mussels. And that number was three years old when we visited three years ago. “Now?” he said. “What’s the number that comes after trillion?”

Then I asked him about the potential spread of the mussels in Minnesota. “It would not be surprising to me,” he said, “if they colonize all the lakes in the state.”

Mussels can’t fly or walk, so they need the assistance of humans to move from lake to lake. Obviously, Nalepa wasn’t optimistic about our chances of getting into a successful prevention program.

Mr. Nelson, of the lake associations, said personal responsibility, i.e. asking boaters to comply with regulations, isn’t enough. He’s right. Laws with punch and authorities willing to enforce those laws are needed.

Nalepa had one piece of sort-of good news. To get into all of our lakes could take the mussels hundreds of years. Long time, but let’s hope that this isn’t another environmental problem discussed to the point of paralysis by politicians. Climate change, Asian carp – the problems get worse while possible solutions remain under consideration. Or ignored.

We really ought to be raising hell about this.


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