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Effects of Artificial Zebra Mussel Druses on Macroinvertebrate Communities and Benthic Carbon Accumulation

Samuel J. Peterson1,2,*, Kamden C. Glade1,3, Andrew W. Hafs1, Debbie L. Guelda1, and Richard W. Koch1

1Aquatic Biology Program, Department of Biology, Bemidji State University, 1500 Birchmont Drive Northeast, Bemidji, MN 56601. 2Current address - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Lake Superior Field Unit, 1701 N 4th St, Superior, WI 54880. 3Current address - Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Tower Area Fisheries Office, 650 MN-169, Tower, MN 55790. *Corresponding author.

Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 30, Issue 3 (2023): 347–367

Dreissena polymorpha (Zebra Mussel) disrupt biological processes throughout aquatic ecosystems in which they are introduced, while simultaneously increasing benthic habitat complexity and food availability by forming druses on various substrates. Numerous studies have investigated the effects of infestation on benthic communities; however, because Zebra Mussels were already established within these systems, it is possible that results were influenced by ecosystem-wide changes in water clarity and suspended nutrient concentrations. In this study, we placed tiles with artificial Zebra Mussel druses in Lake Bemidji, which did not have a well-established Zebra Mussel population at that time, to investigate the effects of benthic habitat modification on macroinvertebrate communities and carbon accumulation. We used control (n = 0 druses) tiles as well as 3 treatment tiles—low (n = 247), medium (n = 428), or high (n = 610) number of individuals per tile—to examine how Zebra Mussel density affected macroinvertebrate communities and carbon accumulation. Macroinvertebrate abundance (ANOVA: P < 0.001) was higher on the treatments compared to the control tiles. However, macroinvertebrate density was highest on control tiles (one-way test: P = 0.002), and treatment did not influence overall community structure (NMDS: P = 0.111) or macroinvertebrate diversity (ANOVA: P = 0.630). Furthermore, organic matter ash-free dry mass (AFDM) density was highest on control tiles (one-way test: P = 0.021), while treatment did not influence invertebrate AFDM density (one-way test: P = 0.098). These results indicate that while macroinvertebrates are able to exploit the additional habitat provided by druses, biological processes such as water filtration, carbon transfer, and benthification facilitated by living Zebra Mussels were also likely crucial in restructuring benthic communities to the extent observed in previous studies.

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