Freshwater mussels (superfamily Unionoidea) are in serious global decline and in urgent need of protection and conservation. The declines have been attributed to a wide array of human activities resulting in pollution and water-quality degradation, and habitat destruction and alteration. Linkages among poor water quality, pollutant sources, and mussel decline in rivers and streams have been associated with results of laboratory-based tests of specific pollutants. However, uncertainties remain about the relationship of laboratory data to actual contaminant exposure routes for various mussel species, life stages, and in the habitats occupied during these exposures. We evaluated the pathways of exposure to environmental pollutants for all 4 life stages (free glochidia, encysted glochidia, juveniles, adults) of unionoidean mussels and found that each life stage has both common and unique characteristics that contribute to observed differences in exposure and sensitivity. Free glochidia typically are exposed only briefly (e.g., seconds to days) through surface water, whereas adults sustain exposure over years to decades through surface water, pore water, sediment, and diet. Juveniles live largely burrowed in the sediment for the first 0 to 4 y of life. Thus, sediment, pore water, and diet are the predominant exposure routes for this life stage, but surface water also might contribute to exposure during certain periods and environmental conditions. The obligate parasitic stage (encysted glochidia stage) on a host fish might be exposed from surface water while partially encysted or from toxicants in host-fish tissue while fully encysted. Laboratory methods for testing for acute and chronic exposures in water have advanced, and toxicant-specific information has increased in recent years. However, additional research is needed to understand interactions of life history, habitat, and long-term exposure to contaminants through water, pore water, sediment, and diet so that the risks of environmental exposures can be properly assessed and managed.
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Vol. 27 • No. 2