Welcome to the first in a new series of Blogs with an alphabetical twist, shedding light on 26 topics that are critical to Freshwater Watch. What will we come up with for the letter X? You’ll have to wait and see. For now, let's kick things off with...
No, it’s not science fiction. An alien invasion is happening right now, right under our noses, and it’s devastating our rivers, lakes and reservoirs.
Meet Dreissena bugensis, the Quagga mussel: “the top ranking threat to our natural biodiversity" according to the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Originally from the Ukraine and Turkey, these little blighters have crept their way across Europe – and as far as the USA - probably as stowaways on ocean-crossing ships.
Although they’re only little - about the size of your thumbnail – they can produce up to a million eggs a year.
A merciless mollusc
Quagga mussels cover the propellor of a boat. (Image courtesy of SCV news.)
Here are just five of the ways that the Quagga mussel causes subaquatic havoc.
It filters out large quantities of phytoplankton – the favourite food of zooplankton – and severely upsets the food webs of native species, leading to fewer fish.
More light reaches through this filtered water to the bottom of water beds, encouraging the growth of pesky weeds which clog up pipes and waterways.
Quagga mussel faeces provides food for other invasive organisms from its home waters, such as demon shrimp and killer shrimp (actual names), which gobble up native shrimp species, and are thought to have co-evolved with the Quagga mussel.
Colonies of Quagga mussel have been found blocking up pipes, affecting the pumping capabilities for power and water treatment plants, costing the water industry millions and affecting the communities that rely on their services.
Finally, this bivalve bully suffocates native mussels to death by sitting on top of them. (Among its victims is the aptly named ‘depressed river mussel’ - Pseudanodonta complanata.)
Scientists are particularly worried because invasive species like the Quagga mussel are travelling across Europe at approximately six times the rate they were in the last century.
You can help tackle the problem through citizen science. Our FreshWater Watchers are monitoring water quality and helping identify potential highways for invasive species.
If you see Quagga mussels in your local water body, you should alert your national environment agency.
Their size is on average 2 cm long, but they can reach up to 3 cm
They have dark concentric rings on their shells
They are pale near the hinge
Oh, and when using FreshWater Watch equipment in water bodies, be sure to Check, Clean and Dry.
Over to you
What other invasive species can you think of?
How do they affect the environment?
Why do you think it’s important for an ecosystem to be well-balanced?
A is for Alien Invasions; B is for the Biggest!; C is for Crickets in your lunchbox; D is for Data. Or is it datum?; E is for Eighty Litres of Water in an Orange; F is for Ferruginous Pochard; G is for Going, Going, Gone?; H is for Heroes; I is for Industrial Revolution; J is for Jigsaw Puzzles; K is for (Everything including the) Kitchen Sink; L is for Life itself; M is for Microbeads; N is for Namedropping