The Baltimore Sun recently reported on an alien mussel species that was found in the Susquehanna River by a fish survey team. (click here for full story) In short, a single zebra mussel was scooped from inside a water intake pipe and is now being tested for positive identification. Invasive species experts fear that a larger population of this species could be growing, a species that is capable of clogging public water systems and hydro-electric dams, destroying native species of mollusks, and causing millions of dollars in damage.
Researchers at the National Aquarium agree that large populations of zebra mussels could lead to big problems for the Susquehanna River, however, it should be noted that this species will most likely not survive in the salty waters of the Chesapeake Bay. This invasive species is a known for its rapid population growth in the Great Lakes. Therefore, it is possible that zebra mussels could expand into the upper Bay in springtime when salinities are very low. So if the species were able to adapt to living in brackish water, its spread throughout the Bay would be devastating to the already struggling oyster industry.
The present threat, however, is on the native species of the river. If populated, the zebra mussels would settle and grow on the native mollusks species, eventually completely covering and killing them. We saw this in the Great Lakes, and unfortunately, the only tactic left to prevent some of the native mollusks from going extinct was to remove them from the wild to refuge situations. So, finding invasive species and removing them before they spread is very crucial.
In addition, with few native predators present, the population of zebra mussels could get so huge that they filter the water TOO efficiently, leaving nothing left to eat for any other filter feeders. This can include native mussels and other bivalves, fish larvae, and other planktivorous fish. Invasive species have thrown ecosystems completely out of balance with devastating effects on native species and fisheries.
Click here to learn more about invasive species in Maryland. We encourage you to learn more about the dangers of these species, and how you can report them.