U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Freshwater Biology (2009) 54, 47–63. DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2427.2008.02091.x


1. We investigated the role of algal composition on pumping, clearance, assimilation, pseudofaeces and faeces production, feeding time budgets, and condition of zebra mussels from spring to autumn at two sites in Saginaw Bay (Lake Huron) and one site in western Lake Erie. Size-fractioned chlorophyll was used to distinguish between feeding on small (<53 >µm) and large (>53 µm) size fractions, and mussel feeding behaviour was quantified by video observations.

2. Mussel pumping, clearance and assimilation rates varied among sites, particularly during summer, when phytoplankton composition varied considerably among sites. Lowest values were seen at the inner-bay site of Saginaw Bay, low to moderate values at the outer-bay site of Saginaw Bay, and high values at the Lake Erie site. Clearance, pumping and assimilation rates were all highly positively correlated (R2 = 0.76) with per cent contribution of flagellates to total algal biomass and negatively correlated with per cent of Microcystis aeruginosa (R2 = 0.63). The negative effects on pumping rate (as determined by clearance rate on the <53 >µm fraction) of Microcystis, which occurred in the >53 µm fraction, could be mitigated by the presence of flagellates in the <53 >µm fraction.

3. Visual observations of mussel feeding showed evidence for poor seston quality during summer negatively affecting feeding rates. High faeces production during times of low assimilation rate was suggestive of poor assimilation efficiency and ⁄ or viable gut passage of grazing resistant algae. Long periods of time not filtering by the mussels during some Microcystis blooms and lack of production of a filtering current during one experiment were suggestive of intoxication from microcystin or other secondary compounds.

4. Clearance and feeding rates of the mussels in Saginaw Bay were high during spring and autumn and very low in summer, particularly at the inner-bay site. Condition of the mussels (mass : length ratio) was highest in spring and lowest during summer. This seasonal variation probably reflected high food assimilation rate during autumn and spring and low assimilation rate and reproduction during summer. The condition of mussels throughout the year was higher at the outer-bay than the inner-bay site, reflecting better feeding conditions at the former.Mussel selective feeding may have been responsible for the poor quality of food at the inner bay site; therefore, we postulate that a regime shift in phytoplankton composition promoted by the mussels fed back into lowered condition of the mussels.