Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Research 19.1 (Spring 2009): 89-126. © 2009 Copyright by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The surface waters of eastern and central Kansas once supported an impressive variety of native freshwater mussels, but a widespread decline in species richness accompanied the urban, industrial, and agricultural development of this region. Statewide mussel surveys implemented during the past two decades have shed new light on the scope and severity of this decline. Of the 48 mussel species originally known from Kansas, six are now extirpated, one lacks reproductively viable populations (i.e., faces imminent extirpation), and 38 others have suffered evident range reductions or a widespread thinning of former populations. Soil erosion and stream siltation, other forms of water and sediment pollution, physical habitat degradation, stream flow attenuation, and declines in the native fishes serving as biological hosts for larval mussels all have contributed to these changes. Dams and other impediments to fish migration now hinder the reestablishment of mussel colonies following prolonged droughts and major water pollution events. Some mussel populations in this region display unique morphological, developmental, and genetic attributes, implying their continued attrition may lead to the eventual loss of distinctive forms or subspecies.