Environment and Ecology

Endangered Plants and Animals

What has been the impact of zebra mussels on North American waterways?

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are black-and-white-striped, bivalve mollusks. They are hard-shelled species that adhere to hard surfaces with byssal threads. They were probably introduced to North America in 1985 or 1986 via discharge of a foreign ship’s ballast water into Lake St. Clair. They have spread throughout the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and as far east as the Hudson River. High densities of zebra mussels have been found in the intakes, pipes, and heat exchangers of waterways throughout the world. They can clog the water in-takes of power plants, industrial sites, and public drinking water systems; foul boat hulls and engine cooling water systems; and disrupt aquatic ecosystems. Water-processing facilities must be cleaned manually to rid the systems of the mussels. Zebra mussels are a threat to surface water resources because they reproduce quickly, have free-swimming larva and rapid growth, lack competitors for space or food, and have no predators.


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