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The status of the freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera in Scotland: extent of change since 1990s, threats and management implications

Cosgrove, Peter, Watt, Jon, Hastie, Lee, Sime, Iain, Shields, Donald, Cosgrove, Cameron, Brown, Lorna, Isherwood, Isabel, Bao, Miguel
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.11 pp. 2093-2112
Margaritifera margaritifera, climate change, endangered species, engineering, fish, freshwater, habitat destruction, highlands, invasive species, mussels, national surveys, pollution, rivers, water quality, Scotland
All known rivers in Scotland with recent records of freshwater pearl mussels Margaritifera margaritifera were surveyed in 2013–2015 using a standard methodology. Freshwater pearl mussel populations were classed as: (i) apparently extinct in 11 rivers, (ii) not successfully recruiting in 44 rivers, and (iii) evidence of recent successful recruitment in 71 rivers. On a regional basis, a high proportion of extant populations were located in North and West Scotland. In all regions extant populations were characterised by low pearl mussel densities, with 97 of 115 extant Scottish populations defined as ‘rare’ (0.1–0.9 mussels per 1 m ²) or ‘scarce’ (1.0–9.9 mussels per 1 m ²). Only 18 Scottish rivers now hold pearl mussel populations in densities that are considered to be ‘common’ (10–19.9 mussels per 1 m ²) or ‘abundant’ (>20 mussels per 1 m ²). Based on survey evidence, the number of apparently extinct pearl mussel populations in Scottish rivers is now 73. The decline is particularly pronounced in the West Highlands and Western Isles strongholds. The key threats are: (i) pearl fishing, (ii) low host fish densities, (iii) pollution/water quality, (iv) climate change and habitat loss, (v) hydrological management/river engineering and (vi) ‘other factors’, such as non-native invasive species. Over the last 100 years this endangered species has been lost from much of its former Holarctic range. Scotland’s extant M. margaritifera populations continue to be of international importance, but their continued decline since the first national survey in 1998 is of great concern.