Carter’s Freshwater Mussel, the only mussel known to inhabit freshwaters of south-west Western Australia, is in serious decline.
Murdoch University researcher Michael Klunzinger is literally wading in to examine the problem and is seeking community support to help spot mussel populations.
"The mussel is under threat mainly from salinisation of WA’s freshwater systems, making them too salty for the mussel to survive," Mr Klunzinger said.
"We are hoping to gain more community involvement to map where the mussel is found throughout the South-West through the Mussel Watch Western Australia web page.
"We already have some community involvement from landowners and government personnel in various catchments, including the Lechenault, Geocatch, western Blackwood, Peel-Harvey, Ellen-Brockman and Swan River systems – but we could use a lot more input from others."
Mr Klunzinger’s PhD research at the Fish Health Unit, Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research, is part of the state-funded project for Natural Resource Management, Protecting and restoring freshwater ecosystem health in the Serpentine River: an adaptive management approach.
The study is being done in collaboration with Lowlands Conservation Association, Serpentine River Group and Serpentine Jarrahdale Shire.
"The South East Regional Centre for Urban Landcare has also been instrumental in generating interest in the Perth metropolitan area through the development and support of the Mussel Watch website," Mr Klunzinger said.
"The key areas of focus are biodiversity of native freshwater mussels and fish, biosecurity to detect and eradicate feral fish, and improving water quality."
Mr Klunzinger said in addition to salinity, other impacts included pollution, drought, temperature change and the loss of native fish that are necessary to the mussel’s life cycle.
"Larval mussels attach themselves to native fish to spread their population and later develop into juvenile mussels," he explained.
"The declining number of native fish in WA’s south-west undoubtedly has an impact on the mussel’s lifecycle as they must attach to native fish to distribute."
Historically the mussel would have been an important food source for Indigenous peoples but today the Department of Health recommends people should not eat freshwater mussels because of their tendency to accumulate contaminants.
The mussel also improves water clarity and quality by filtering tiny particles like plankton, algae and microorganisms.
Anyone interested in becoming involved can go to the Mussel Watch Western Australia web page www.musselwatchwa.com to find out more.