Alien Quagga Mussel Wreaking Havoc in United Kingdom

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Scientists have warned that a type of invasive freshwater mussel poses considerable danger to the environment and economy of the United Kingdom. The alien quagga mussel – an organism of which was recently discovered in a London river – inhabits the waterways of Turkey and Ukraine. Researchers fear a number of invasive species of mussel are beginning to move across from Eastern Europe, as a result of canal construction that has linked various waterways.

In a new research study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, researchers based at the University of Cambridge looked at a total of 23 invasive species that look set to wreak havoc throughout the United Kingdom.

Originating from the Azov, Black and Caspian seas, it’s already well-documented that 14 of these invasive species have gained a foothold in the Rhine estuary and ports of Denmark. Of these 14, four species are predicted to have made their way to the U.K., including the bloody red shrimp; these forecasts are based upon the researchers’ models, however, and have not been confirmed by direct sightings.

Quagga mussels affixed to boat propeller.

The quagga mussels are similar to the edible type consumed in restaurants, and possess beards that facilitate their attachment to solid surfaces. The quagga mussels can even bind to the U.K.’s native mussel, in turn, smothering and killing them. This has led to concerns over the population numbers of endangered, native mussels across the nation. The adhesive capacity means the organisms also have a tendency to block water pipes and foul the hulls of boats and lock gates.

Adding to this, the quagga mussel has the ability to disrupt typical water conditions, promoting rapid growth of cyanobacteria, leading to the toxic changes that could adversely affect local shrimp and fish populations.

According to Dr. David Aldridge, a University of Cambridge researcher and co-author of the study, the species was found in the Wraysbury River. Aside from mussels, native species are also under threat from killer shrimp, demon shrimp and the bloody red shrimp.

The authors of the paper say Britain is heading towards an “invasional meltdown,” if the problem is not tackled, with more deadly species looking set to follow. “We’ve been watching species heading our way from the Ponto-Caspian region for the past 20 years or so. They are all building up in the Rhine system just over the ocean,” explained Aldridge.

While the whole of the U.K. is at risk, the Thames, Severn and Great Ouse are the rivers most vulnerable to invasion. In the near future, Aldridge and colleagues believe scientists will find that around 90 percent of a given river’s biomass is comprised of non-native organisms, as has already been witnessed in regions across western Europe.

As the quagga mussel population booms, it’s very likely the U.K. will experience considerable economic consequences. According to representatives with the U.K. Environment Agency, the quagga mussel already costs the country over $2.8 billion annually.

Check out the video below to see just some of the devastating consequences of quagga mussel spread within the United States.

Top image credit: Dr. David Aldrich, University of Cambridge.

Last modified: October 13th, 2014 by James Fenner