Population genetics of the freshwater mussel, Amblema plicata (Say 1817) (Bivalvia: Unionidae): Evidence of high dispersal and post-glacial colonization

Research paper by C. L. Elderkin, A. D. Christian, C. C. Vaughn, J. L. Metcalfe-Smith, D. J. Berg

Indexed on: 05 Oct '06Published on: 05 Oct '06Published in: Conservation Genetics


Over 70% of North American freshwater mussel species (families Unionidae and Margaritiferidae) are listed as threatened or endangered. Knowledge of the genetic structure of target species is essential for the development of effective conservation plans. Because Ambelma plicata is a common species, its population genetic structure is likely to be relatively intact, making it a logical model species for investigations of freshwater mussel population genetics. Using mtDNA and allozymes, we determined the genotypes of 170+ individuals in each of three distinct drainages: Lake Erie, Ohio River, and the Lower Mississippi River. Overall, within-population variation increased significantly from north to south, with unique haplotypes and allele frequencies in the Kiamichi River (Lower Mississippi River drainage). Genetic diversity was relatively low in the Strawberry River (Lower Mississippi River drainage), and in the Lake Erie drainage. We calculated significant among-population structure using both molecular markers (A.p. Φst = 0.15, θst = 0.12). Using a hierarchical approach, we found low genetic structure among rivers and drainages separated by large geographic distances, indicating high effective population size and/or highly vagile fish hosts for this species. Genetic structure in the Lake Erie drainage was similar to that in the Ohio River, and indicates that northern populations were founded from at least two glacial refugia following the Pleistocene. Conservation of genetic diversity in Amblema plicata and other mussel species with similar genetic structure should focus on protection of a number of individual populations, especially those in southern rivers.