In lakes which have a quagga mussel infestation, the species dominates with far-reaching consequences. This is also evident from its rapid spread in Lake Constance, where it first appeared in 2016. By 2017 it was already present in every corner of the lake, and it has been continuing to spread in the shallow water zone ever since. It is now even colonising the lake in the deeper waters, and is expected to further increase in population density in the deepest zones.
A new fact sheet (in German), compiled as a part of the research project “SeeWandel” (LakeChange), summarises the reasons for the quagga mussel’s rapid and widespread colonisation of Lake Constance, and the potential consequences of this for the lake’s ecosystem.
Consequences for the ecosystem and society
According to Piet Spaak, a researcher at Eawag and project lead for the SeeWandel project, the detailed consequences of the quagga mussel’s colonisation of perialpine lakes are as yet unknown. He says: “On the basis of observations that we have from North America, we fear that the presence of the quagga mussel will have far-reaching consequences for our lakes’ ecosystems, the balance of which could potentially be upset”.
Possible consequences may include:
- Reduction in plankton, as the mussels filter large volumes of phytoplankton
- Increase in the visibility depth due to the reduction in plankton
- Increase in nutrients on the lake bed, and decrease in nutrients in the open waters, as the mussels live close to the lake bed
- Alterations in species communities and in the food web
- Reduction in fish stock due to an altered food web
- Mussel shells in shore areas
- Increased maintenance and costs, e.g. on outflow pipes, boats, fishing nets etc.
Management and remedial measures
The researchers recommend that waters not yet affected be protected as far as possible against introduction of the species. According to current knowledge, the most important measure that can be taken is to prevent further spread: The utmost efforts should be made to protect as-yet unaffected waters from importation of the species. This can be achieved, for example, by awareness-raising campaigns, or by mandating cleaning for boats that have previously been used on another lake. It is also vitally important, says Piet Spaak, to introduce regular and coherent monitoring for the purposes of early identification as well as to better understand the propagation patterns and population dynamics of the quagga mussel.