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J Exp Biol. 2009 Jul;212(Pt 13):2027-36. doi: 10.1242/jeb.028688.

Zebra mussels anchor byssal threads faster and tighter than quagga mussels in flow.

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Department of Zoology, Center of Rapid Evolution, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


While the invasive zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha has rapidly spread throughout the Great Lakes and inland waterways, it is being displaced by the quagga mussel Dreissena bugensis in shallow water habitats. However, zebra mussels remain dominant in areas with higher water velocity. We hypothesized that the persistence of zebra over quagga mussels in habitats with higher water velocity might result from greater rate and strength of byssal thread attachment. We examined whether zebra mussels relative to quagga mussels have: (1) higher byssal thread synthesis rate, (2) lower dislodgment in flow and (3) greater mechanical force required for detachment from substrate. Specifically, we examined byssal thread synthesis rate and dislodgment of both species in response to water velocities of 0, 50, 100 and 180 cm s(-1). Byssal thread synthesis rate was significantly higher for zebra than for quagga mussels at all velocities. Dislodgment from the substrate increased for both species with increasing velocity but was significantly lower for zebra than for quagga mussels. We also tested the mechanical force to detach mussels after short (32 h) and long (two and three months) periods of attachment on hard substrate. Detachment force was significantly higher for zebra than for quagga mussels only after short-term attachment. Higher byssal thread synthesis rate in zebra mussels was a likely factor that minimized their dislodgment in flow and increased short-term attachment strength. Differences in byssal thread synthesis rate between the two species might partly account for the ability of zebra mussels to maintain dominance over quagga mussels in habitats with high velocities.

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