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Making Mussels for Lake Trafford

Sometimes we need a little help to get going, and Lake Trafford is no exception. Luckily, nature has provided it assistance from some unlikely sources: native mussels and bluegill fish.

Paper pondshell mussels might not be much to look at, but they are an essential component to ecosystem health and clean water, acting as natural filtration systems. When Lake Trafford, a prized sportfishing location in southwest Florida, was targeted for habitat improvement, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) knew that employing mussels would help improve the poor water clarity and quality. However, they were unsure if they would be able to grow enough to make a difference. The Foundation provided two grants totaling $130,960 to help researchers answer the question.

After FWC biologists tried unsuccessfully to grow mussels for the lake using traditional methods, they turned to nature for help. Mussels need a fish host to reproduce, so bluegill were used to give the bivalves the breeding boost they needed. Researchers placed the mussels and fish in a specialized tank system purchased using Foundation funding. In the tanks, the mussels released a mucus net that contained tiny baby mussels. Bluegill swam into the net, collecting the babies on their gills, the most conducive environment for their growth with no negative effects on the fish. The results were remarkable: biologists were able to produce 1,600 mussels with just 30 fish.

This project marks the first time anyone has tried using native freshwater mussel restoration as a larger tool for whole ecosystem restoration in Florida. Also, this is the first time anyone has successfully propagated paper pondshell mussels anywhere. Biologists are now working to scale up the project and breed tens of thousands of mussels to stock Lake Trafford with the perfect amount of aquatic superheroes. They will also begin working to develop similar techniques for other native mussel species.

“This is an ingenious process that could be a model for others,” said Foundation President & CEO Andy Walker. “We are thrilled to see how the study progresses and can’t wait to fish in a restored Lake Trafford in the coming years.”

Funding for the project comes from the Foundation’s Conserve Wildlife license plate. Twenty-five dollars from each plate purchase supports the conservation of Florida’s rare wildlife. Help fund innovative grants like this one by purchasing the plate online here!

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