Freshwater mussels are important constituents of freshwater ecosystems, yet much of their basic biology remains to be examined. The behavior of 3 species of unionid mussels (Unio tumidus, Unio pictorum, and Anodonta anatina) was examined in the lowland River Spree (Germany). Mussels were marked individually, and their positions on the sediment surface and depth below the sediment surface were recorded weekly between May and October 2004. The average rate of horizontal movement was 11 ± 15 cm/wk (mean ± 1 SD). The direction of the movements seemed erratic; however, a significant net shoreward displacement of ~17 cm, possibly caused by rising water levels, was observed during the study. A surprisingly high percentage of the mussels (74 ± 7%) was burrowed entirely in the sediment to depths as great as 20 cm during the summer. Smaller mussels and individuals not infested by the zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, burrowed deeper in the sediments than larger or infested mussels. Burrowing reduced infestation densities in a laboratory experiment. Significantly more U. tumidus individuals were found on the sediment surface during the reproductive period in early summer than in late summer, suggesting that reproductive activity may influence burrowing. Burrowing was significantly related to current velocity (discharge), day length, and water temperature (multiple linear regression, R2 = 0.74, p < 0.001), but current velocity appeared to be the dominant factor driving vertical movements (R2 = 0.53, p < 0.01). We propose that movement behaviors are important adaptations of unionid mussel populations to the flow and food conditions in rivers. Movement behavior also may help unionids escape predators and control infestation by D. polymorpha.
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