Science News

Freshwater invasion coming to the UK

Fri, 17th Oct 2014

Timothy Revell

An invasion is coming. Murderous mussels are leading the way with killer shrimp and other freshwater species waiting in the Netherlands, poised to enter the UK.

Quagga Mussel

Quagga mussels are native to Turkey and Ukraine, but in the last few weeks have been found  in the river Wraysbury near London. A report published in the Journal of Applied Ecology this week, looks at the likelihood of a freshwater invasion and the potential risks.

In the last 20 years, there has been a lot of canal construction, which has linked many European rivers, allowing for the movement of freshwater species from the Ponto-Caspian region around Turkey and Ukraine, towards Britain. “This has not only created a great highway for trade and transport,” says David Aldridge co-author of the report and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, “it has created a great highway for invasion.”

The invading mussels attach to solid surfaces, such as the UK’s native freshwater mussels or pipes near the water. This can lead to the suffocation of the native mussels and the pipes to be able to carry less water, which is expensive to fix.

“A single quagga mussel can filter around 2 litres of water a day,” continued Aldridge “this can drive a complete change in the nature of the water.” In some cases this can lead to the growth of toxic algae, or to nuisance weeds that can cause problems for recreational angling, or driving boats. 

The reason that Aldridge and others are worried is because they believe that we are on the brink of an invasional meltdown. 

“In the Netherlands, there’s probably about 20 Ponto-Caspian species waiting to invade that we haven’t got here yet,” says Aldridge. If the invasive species do make it to Britain, then our freshwater systems will start to look very different.

“Ultimately a large number of the UK’s waterbodies are going to look more like the Ponto-Caspian than they are the native UK community.” 

The killer shrimp is amongst the possible invasive species from the Ponto-Caspian region. 

“Killer shrimp really like to feed on the waste faeces produced by the quagga mussels,” says Aldridge, “these killer shrimps are really a problem because they can kill other shrimps, eat some of our native insect larvae, and even eat fish eggs.” 

Listen to full interview here.  

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Neither the Quagga mussels nor the killer shrimps can get into British waterways under their own steam, as they cannot tolerate the marine environment. Once again the seas around our island form a protective barrier. But there is a problem with the huge trade in cut flowers and, more especially, potted plants arriving in the UK from Holland.

The greatest threat in this trade will come from water lilies and other aquatic and marginal plants.

Though restrictions on such imports are in place, the 'open' borders between EU nations and a lack of public information renders these restrictions worthless.

I think it would be safe to say that many Brits visiting Holland will come home with the odd few bits & bobs for their gardens'. A single pond plant with Quagga mussels and or their eggs in the root system is all it might take to begin an unstoppable invasion.

Large signs are needed at ports such as Dover and Harwich and the Euro Tunnel and information leaflets given with all boarding passes.

All we need do then is install coastal signs in waterfowl language to stop some goose on a day trip from Holland inadvertently giving hitch-hiker Quagga mussels or their eggs a lift into Britain. Don_1, Tue, 21st Oct 2014

Mmmm, shrimps and mussels, without having to go to sea for them. I'll happily eat the invaders. alancalverd, Tue, 21st Oct 2014

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