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Uptake of dissolved organic carbon and trace elements by zebra mussels

Nature volume 407, pages 7880 (07 September 2000) | Download Citation



Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are widespread and abundant in major freshwater ecosystems in North America, even though the phytoplankton food resources in some of these systems seem to be too low to sustain them1,2. Because phytoplankton biomass is greatly depleted in ecosystems with large D. polymorpha populations3,4 and bacteria do not seem to be an important food source for this species5, exploitation of alternative carbon sources may explain the unexpected success of D. polymorpha in such environments. Here we examine the possibility that absorption of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from water6,7,8,9 could provide a nutritional supplement to zebra mussels. We find that mussels absorb 14C-labelled DOC produced by cultured diatoms with an efficiency of 0.23%; this indicates that DOC in natural waters could contribute up to 50% of the carbon demand of zebra mussels. We also find that zebra mussels absorb some dissolved metals that have been complexed by the DOM; although absorption of dissolved selenium was unaffected by DOC, absorption of dissolved cadmium, silver and mercury by the mussels increased 32-, 8.7- and 3.6-fold, respectively, in the presence of high-molecular-weight DOC.

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We thank J. Cole, G. Stephens and D. Strayer for comments on this manuscript. This work was supported by the New York Sea Grant Institute, the National Association of Photographic Manufacturers, the Hudson River Foundation, and the National Science Foundation (N.F.), and a NOAA NERRS graduate fellowship (H.R.).

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  1. Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5000, USA

    • Hudson A. Roditi
    • , Nicholas S. Fisher
    •  & Sergio A. Sañudo-Wilhelmy


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Correspondence to Nicholas S. Fisher.

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