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[This information was originally produced by Beverly Skinner, wildlife biologist at Innoko
National Wildlife Refuge (in west central Alaska), for radio broadcast on Public Radio stations
Freshwater mussels, which are often called clams, are found in many of Alaska's rivers, ponds,
and lakes. Mussels belong to a group of invertebrates known as mollusks, and have two shells
fastened together by a hinge. Mussels can open and close their shells by way of an internal
muscle, and usually spent their days on the bottom of the water, feeding with their shells partly
Mussels are filter feeders. They pull water into their bodies, strain out the microscopic food, and
then spit the water back out. It is because of this simple yet efficient way of eating that mussels
are in trouble today. Over 43% of North America's 300 species of freshwater mussels are
extinct or on the way to extinction. Some of these species began disappearing as far back as the
mid-1800's. These early disappearances coincided with mussel shells being made into buttons.
Later disappearances are due to the land use changes within their ecosystems such as clear-
cutting forests, dam building, and water pollution.
Because they are siphon feeders, mussels are like the canary in the coal mine: They are an
indicator of problems within their freshwater ecosystems. The simple fact that they are
disappearing shows that changes in water systems throughout the country are harmful to the
animals living in the water. We don't know exactly why they are dying. It could be that their
microscopic food is disappearing, or possibly chemicals in the water are harming the mussels
themselves. As humans, we need to become concerned because ultimately whatever is harming
the mussels will begin to affect us.
For Alaska Naturally and the Innoko NWR, this is Beverly Skinner. There isn't much known
about the mussels of Alaska. Species could be disappearing here and we might not even know
it. Remember, just because mussels live their lives in areas where they are rarely seen, doesn't
mean they aren't an important part of our ecosystem. We need to heed all our coal mine
canaries no matter where they live or what they look like.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at [email protected] and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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