Growth and longevity in freshwater mussels: evolutionary and conservation implications

  • Authors: Haag, Wendell R.; Rypel, Andrew L..
  • Publication Year: 2010
  • Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
  • Source: Biological Reviews 1-23


The amount of energy allocated to growth versus other functions is a fundamental feature of an organism’s life history. Constraints on energy availability result in characteristic trade-offs among life-history traits and reflect strategies by which organisms adapt to their environments. Freshwater mussels are a diverse and imperiled component of aquatic ecosystems but little is known about their growth and longevity. Generalized depictions of freshwater mussels as ‘long-lived and slow-growing’ may give an unrealistically narrow view of life-history diversity which is incongruent with the taxonomic diversity of the group and can result in development of inappropriate conservation strategies. We investigated relationships among growth, longevity, and size in 57 species and 146 populations of freshwater mussels using original data and literature sources. In contrast to generalized depictions, longevity spanned nearly two orders of magnitude, ranging from 4 to 190 years, and the von Bertalanffy growth constant, K , spanned a similar range (0.02–1.01). Median longevity and K differed among phylogenetic groups but groups overlapped widely in these traits. Longevity, K , and size also varied among populations; in some cases, longevity and K differed between populations by a factor of two or more. Growth differed between sexes in some species and males typically reached larger sizes than females. In addition, a population of Quadrula asperata exhibited two distinctly different growth trajectories. Most individuals in this population had a low-to-moderate value of K (0.15) and intermediate longevity (27 years) but other individuals showed extremely slow growth (K = 0.05) and reached advanced ages (72 years). Overall, longevity was related negatively to the growth rate, K, and K explained a high percentage of variation in longevity. By contrast, size and relative shell mass (g mm-1 shell length) explained little variation in longevity. These patterns remained when data were corrected for phylogenetic relationships among species. Path analysis supported the conclusion that K was the most important factor influencing longevity both directly and indirectly through its effect on shell mass. The great variability in age and growth among and within species shows that allocation to growth is highly plastic in freshwater mussels. The strong negative relationship between growth and longevity suggests this is an important trade-off describing widely divergent life-history strategies. Although life-history strategies may be constrained somewhat by phylogeny, plasticity in growth among populations indicates that growth characteristics cannot be generalized within a species and management and conservation efforts should be based on data specific to a population of interest.

  • Citation: Haag, Wendell R.; Rypel, Andrew L. 2011. Growth and longevity in freshwater mussels: evolutionary and conservation implications. Biological Reviews 86:225-247.
  • Keywords: age, life history, growth rate, von Bertalanffy, Unionidae, Margaritiferidae, Unionoida
  • Posted Date: September 20, 2010
  • Modified Date: November 29, 2011
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