Elevated suspended solids are a widespread stressor of aquatic ecosystems, but their effects on growth and reproduction in freshwater mussels are largely unknown. We fertilized experimental ponds to create a gradient in total suspended solids (TSS) and examined the effects of TSS on growth, nutritional status, reproduction, and clearance rate in Ligumia subrostrata. The number of females that became gravid declined sharply with increasing TSS, and no gravid females were found in the highest TSS treatments. The proportion of gravid females was not related to the TSS organic∶inorganic ratio. Fertilization was an all-or-nothing phenomenon. In all females that did become gravid, 98 to 99% of eggs were fertilized regardless of TSS, and total fecundity was unrelated to TSS. Clearance rates declined sharply as TSS increased but showed a threshold relationship in which clearance was uniformly low at TSS > ∼8 mg/L. Reproductive failure probably was not caused by poor body condition or nutritional status because growth (length and mass) and energetic status (measured as caloric density) were not related to TSS. We propose 2 mechanisms that implicate interference of TSS with fertilization as the cause of reproductive failure. Reduced clearance rate could decrease the chance of females encountering suspended sperm during filter feeding, or an increase in pseudofeces production could bind sperm in mucus and lead to its egestion before fertilization. Interruption of fertilization coincident with high TSS is a potential mechanism to explain the lack of mussel recruitment in many locations. Monitoring and reduction of TSS, especially during the spawning season, may help create conditions necessary for maintenance and recovery of mussel populations. More research is needed to explore the generality of this pattern across a broad range of mussel species including those adapted to lotic environments or that use different brooding strategies.
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