Invasive mussels as ecosystem engineers

Submitted by editor on 16 January 2014.

How is lake water quality and nutrient fluxes effected by invasive and native organisms? That's what Geraldine Nogaro and Alan D. Steinman are answering in the new Early View Oikos paper, "Influence of ecosystem engineers on ecosystem processes is mediated by lake sediment properties".

Here's the author's summary of the paper:

Dreissenid mussels, an iconic invasive species of the Laurentian Great Lakes since their introduction via ballast water in the late 1980s, can greatly alter nutrient fluxes and the microbial food web through their filter-feeding activity and excretion of feces and pseudo-feces at the water–sediment interface. Invasive species may impact biotic community structure, ecosystem processes, and associated goods and services. Their impacts may be especially strong because they also serve as ecosystem engineers (i.e., organisms affecting the physical habitat and resources for other species). The main objective of our study was to determine how the filtering/excretion activity of invasive mussels and the burrowing/bioirrigation activity of native chironomid larvae affect nutrient fluxes and water quality in Muskegon and Bear Lakes (Fig. 1). Laboratory mesocosm experiments were conducted using core tubes filled with sediment, water, and invertebrates (mussels and chironomids) collected from Muskegon and Bear Lakes (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1. Location of Muskegon and Bear Lakes within Laurentian Great Lakes region in Michigan, USA (top). Muskegon Lake (bottom left) and Bear Lake (bottom right) from the sampling boat.

Fig. 2. Dr. Geraldine Nogaro sieving sediment from Muskegon Lake to collect burrowing macroinvertebrates and study their influence on nutrient biogeochemistry in impacted lake ecosystems.

Results showed that sediment reworking and ventilation activities by chironomids increased oxygen penetration in the sediment, affecting primarily pore water chemistry, whereas invasive mussels enhanced nutrient releases in the surface water (Fig. 3). However, burrowing chironomids had a greater influence on sediment reworking and microbial-mediated processes in organic-rich sediments (Bear Lake), whereas invasive mussels enhanced nutrient concentrations in the overlying water of organic-poor sediments (Muskegon Lake). These results have management implications, as the effects of invasive mussels on the biogeochemical functioning in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere can alter system bioenergetics and promote harmful algal blooms.

Fig. 3. Sediment cores used to evaluate invertebrate effects on nutrient release (top). Native chironomids created oxygenated burrows (bottom left), while invasive mussels stimulated nutrient release at the sediment surface (bottom right).


Nogaro G., Steinman A.D. (2013) Influence of ecosystem engineers on ecosystem processes is mediated by lake sediment properties. Oikos doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2013.00978.x