Is there a link between forestry and the decline of the freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera in central Sweden?
The freshwater pearl mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera, is a species in decline throughout its entire range in Europe and North America. In Sweden, the species has disappeared from one third of the watercourses it was found in a century ago, and recruitment occurs in only one third of the approximately 400 populations of mussels remaining. Changes to a watercourse induced by forestry are seen to be among the causes of decline, though there is little direct evidence. This study used GIS to determine various aspects of land cover in the catchment areas of 25 mussel populations in Western Värmland, Sweden. The road network, percentage of different land covers, and forest age were examined at four scales: whole catchment, subcatchment (up to nearest sediment trap), 250m and 100m streamside corridors. Streams containing populations of recruiting mussels had significantly fewer road crossings than streams with non-recruiting populations, perhaps due to increased sedimentation of streams in connection to road crossings. Recruiting mussels were found in catchments with more forest of age class 4-40 years, and significance increased as the scale of analysis was reduced. Almost all other age classes were insignificant. Reasons for these relationships are proposed, which include the larger proportion of birch in young forest (which provide more easily degradable material than conifer needles); and the higher acidity of soils in conifer forests, which increases with forest age and can be detrimental to mussels.
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