Title page for ETD etd-04222005-150642

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Ostby, Brett John Kaste
Author's Email Address bostby@vt.edu
URN etd-04222005-150642
Title Characterization of Suitable Habitats for Freshwater Mussels in the Clinch River, Virginia and Tennessee
Degree Master of Science
Department Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Neves, Richard J. Committee Co-Chair
Newcomb, Tammy J. Committee Co-Chair
Craig, Steven R. Committee Member
Stauffer, Dean F. Committee Member
  • O:N ratio
  • microhabitat
  • shear stress
  • behavior
  • transferability
  • habitat suitability criteria
  • habitat guilds
  • mesohabitat
  • habitat
  • mussels
  • Unionidae
Date of Defense 2005-03-08
Availability restricted
With a new focus on flow regulation by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in reservoir tailwaters, it is now possible to recover many mussel species that once occurred in these reaches. Before flows can be modified to create habitat for freshwater mussels, suitable microhabitat conditions must be defined. In this study, I used multiple approaches to define suitable microhabitats for species in the free-flowing upper Clinch River, Virginia and Tennessee, where reproducing mussel populations persist.

During summer low flows in 2003 and 2004, I measured flow and substrate conditions in over 1000 microhabitat patches (0.25 m2 quadrat samples) across five river reaches. Flow characteristics and embeddedness were significantly different between microhabitats occupied and unoccupied by the most abundant species (MRPP, p < 0.05). Comparison of simple and multiple logistic regression models with Akaike’s Information Criteria (AIC) demonstrated that increasing Fleisswasserstammtisch (FST) hemisphere number (a measure of shear stress), decreasing degree of embeddedness, and increasing mean column velocity best explained species occurrences in a microhabitat patch. Subtle differentiation in habitat use among species was

observed; however, most species appeared to be microhabitat generalists. Species were grouped into three habitat guilds using corresponding canonical analysis and cluster analysis: fast-flow specialists (FFS), fast-flow generalists (FFG), and slow-flow tolerant (SFT).

I used the same data set to develop and test transferability of Habitat Suitability Criteria (HSC) for three habitat guilds and seven species of adult freshwater mussels. Nonparametric tolerance limits were used to define the range of suitable and optimal habitat during summer low flows. Optimal habitat was defined as those ranges of FST hemisphere number, mean column velocity, and embeddedness occupied by the central 50% of independent observations for a species or guild, whereas suitable habitat was defined by those ranges occupied by the central 90% of observations. The transferability of criteria to other reaches of the Clinch River was assessed using one-sided Chi-square tests. Criteria developed for the fast-flow specialist (FFS) and fast-flow generalist (FFG) guilds, as well as most criteria for species in those guilds, transferred to destination reaches. In contrast, criteria developed for the slow-flow tolerant (SFT) guild and individual constituent species consistently failed to transfer. Criteria for FFS and FFG guilds and their constituent species should be incorporated into flow simulation models such as PHABSIM to gauge the effect of minimum flows on mussel habitat quality and quantity. These criteria could also be used to determine suitable sites for mussel translocations. However, my criteria require further testing in other rivers before they can be transferred beyond the Clinch River.

Behavior and physiological responses to laboratory manipulations of flow velocity and substrate particle size were used to elucidate microhabitat preferences of Actinonaias pectorosa,

Potamilus alatus, and Ptychobranchus subtentum. These species appeared less stressed in the fastest flow treatment, demonstrating significantly higher oxygen consumption and oxygen-to-

nitrogen (O:N) ratios than in slower flow treatments. Only P. alatus demonstrated a preference for substrate particle size, and consistently selected finer particle sizes. Actinonaias pectorosa and P. subtentum demonstrated preference for fast-flow microhabitats by readily burrowing in those conditions, while abandoning slow-flow conditions. The lack of preference for substrate particle size demonstrated by A. pectorosa and P. subtentum supports conclusions of previous studies that substrate particle size is of little or secondary importance for explaining mussel microhabitat use.

These results, along with previous studies in the Clinch River, demonstrate that the stable habitats of riffles and runs; characterized by fast flows during summer low flows, low percent bedrock, and low embeddedness, are the most suitable habitats for mussel assemblages. To create and maintain suitable habitat conditions in tailwaters, releases should maintain flow over riffles at a minimum depth of no less than 30 cm in riffles that provide higher shear stress conditions (FST number > 7) and velocities (> 0.70 m/s). Periodic releases that are sufficient to transport silt and sand, but not high enough to transport larger substrate should be adequate to maintain substrates with a low degree of embeddedness. Doing so would create suitable habitat for all mussels, from the most to least specialized. Additionally, HSC developed for FFS and FFG guilds can be used to determine suitable destination sites for translocations of species belonging to these guilds.

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