Quagga mussels – an invasive species which threatens to wipe out thousands of native animals and plants, cause harmful algal blooms and damage property – has spread across Europe reaching the UK over the last few weeks, writes Earthwatch's Avi Baruch.
The species which originates in Ukraine and Turkey is also found in the USA and has spread across Europe reaching a reservoir near London Heathrow Airport this month.
A top ranking threat
The invasive species – which can produce one million eggs a season – typically spread by attaching themselves to boats and plants. Once established they can clog water intake structures - such as pipes and screens - reducing pumping capabilities for power and water treatment plants, and costing industries, companies, and communities. Quagga mussels have also been found to dramatically increase the risk of harmful cyanobacteria algal blooms (blue-green algae). As a result, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in June described the molluscs as "the top ranking threat to the UK’s natural biodiversity".
As well as Quagga mussels, many other invasive species are affecting global waterbodies at an unprecedented rate. What worries scientists is the increasing speed with which these creatures are moving. Invasive species such as the Quagga mussel have been travelling across Europe at approximately six times the rate they were in the last century.
A global phenomenon
FreshWater Watchers – our citizen scientists - are recording when algal blooms occur, as well as taking note of boating activities and water treatment works. This information allows scientists to identify areas of degraded water quality as well as potential transport pathways for invasive species. If you spot Quagga mussels in your waterbody, please alert your national environment agency.
Identifying a Quagga mussel:
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