Freshwater mussel shells (Unionidae) chronicle changes in a North American river over the past 1000years

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Jan 1;575:199-206. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.225. Epub 2016 Oct 12.


The Illinois River was substantially altered during the 20th century with the installation of navigational locks and dams, construction of extensive levee networks, and degradation of water quality. Freshwater mussels were affected by these changes. We used sclerochronology and stable isotopes to evaluate changes over time in age-and-growth and food sources for two mussel species: Amblema plicata and Quadrula quadrula. Specimens were collected in years 1894, 1897, 1909, 1912, 1966, and 2013, and archeological specimens were collected circa 850. The von Bertalanffy growth parameter (K) was similar between 850 and 1897, but it increased by 1912 and remained elevated through 2013. Predicted maximum size (Linf) increased over the past millennium, and 2013 individuals were over 50% larger than in 850. Growth indices showed similar patterns of continual increases in growth. Shells were enriched in 13C and 15N during the 20th century, but exhibited a partial return to historical conditions by 2013. These patterns are likely attributable to impoundment, nutrient pollution and eutrophication beginning in the early 20th century followed by recent water quality improvement.

Keywords: Eutrophication; Growth; Historical ecology; Isotope; Sclerochronology; von Bertalanffy.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Shells / chemistry*
  • Animals
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis
  • Illinois
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Unionidae / growth & development*
  • United States


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes