Invasive Species Council of British Columbia. 2012. Zebra and Quagga Mussels. ISC, B.C. Available from http://www.bcinvasives.ca/invasive-species/invasive-organisms/zebra-and-quagga-mussels (accessed January 20, 2013).
CBC News. 2012. B.C. urged to take action against invasive mussels. CBC, B.C. Available from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/09/08/bc-zebra-quagga-mussels.html (accessed January 20, 2013).
Zebra and Quagga mussels are small mollusks that are native to freshwater habitats in Europe. They were incidentally introduced in the 1980s to Eastern North America by ships travelling from Europe. They continue to spread westward across the continent and these small, seemingly harmless bivalves are thriving and have been a major problem in Canada and the United States since their introduction (ISCBC 2012).
These mussel species have surprisingly substantial effects on native species and ecosystems. Native freshwater species are affected because Zebra and Quagga mussels form in very large numbers and remove plankton by filter feeding. This means that species that are reliant on plankton, such as salmon, suffer due to the reduced amount of food. In turn, species that feed on salmon are affected. The dense colonies which attach to and inhabit large areas of substrate also inhibit other species which rely on these surfaces for feeding, such as native mollusks and crustaceans. Thus, entire food webs can be severely altered (ISCBC 2012).
Along with native species and ecosystems, humans and our economies are being affected by these invasive species in several ways. Extensive numbers of mussels can accumulate on watercraft, water intakes, and other submerged structures, which can be damaging and hazardous. These mats of mussels are already causing Canadian and United States governments to spend millions of dollars each year to maintain the function of man-made structures such as water supplies and power plants. It is also likely that fisheries are suffering where the mussels are present due to the power of these mollusks to remove plankton (i.e. fish food) from lakes and rivers. The potential impacts of Zebra and Quagga mussels are therefore of great concern and the prevention of the spread of the species into other areas of North America should be a priority (ISCBC 2012, CBC 2012).
One would think that governments in provinces or states that have not yet experienced or discovered these two species, such as British Columbia, would have stringent regulations and laws preventing the invasion. This, however, is not the case with B.C. In fact, a boat from the U.S. harboring Quagga mussels was recently found on Shuswap Lake. Fortunately, these mussels were most likely dead (CBC 2012). This incident should serve as further evidence that regulations, such as boat inspections, should be created and enforced to stop the spread of Zebra and Quagga mussels into the province’s bodies of water. Public awareness and appreciation of the impacts of these species is also an important component of this issue. Therefore, both the introduction of laws and the education of the public in British Columbia are essential to protect and maintain our native species, ecosystems, and economy from the effects of Zebra and Quagga mussels. Otherwise, alien mollusks may be coming to a lake or river near you…
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