Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Watershed Sciences

Committee Chair(s)

Scott W Miller


Scott W Miller


Karen E. Mock


Joseph M. Wheaton


The habitat requirements of western freshwater mussels, Anodonta, Gonidea, and Margaritifera, remain unclear despite their imperiled status. Freshwater mussels provide a series of ecosystem services including habitat enhancement, substratum stabilization, nutrient cycling, and water clarification, which makes their loss from aquatic ecosystems particularly detrimental. To improve the efficacy of restoration actions targeting these organisms, I used random forest modeling to investigate the biotic and abiotic factors influencing mussel density and distribution throughout a 55-kilometer (km) segment of the Middle Fork John Day River (MFJDR), in northeastern Oregon. Data was collected to characterize the occurrence of mussels with respect to the hierarchical, hydrogeomorphic structure of habitat within reaches of varying valley confinement and channel units nested within these reaches. Data regarding functional habitat features were also included to ensure that models included the wide range of characteristics that mussels need from their environment. By collecting data at both the reach and channel unit scale, I was able to investigate how mussel densities and distributions vary with spatial scale and other biophysical parameters. Throughout the study area, Margaritifera density exhibited a unimodal distribution with respect to river km, while Anodonta and Gonidea density showed a negative relationship with river km and exhibited higher densities downstream. The large scale, longitudinal trends of Margaritifera were related to hydrogeomorphic characteristics at the reach scale, while less than half of the longitudinal variation in Anodonta and Gonidea were explained by hydrogeomorphic and water quality parameters. At the channel unit scale, all mussel genera responded to the patchy variation in physical habitat characteristics, particularly habitat factors that indicated more stable parts of the channel. Overall, physical habitat characteristics such as woody debris, emergent aquatic vegetation, coarse substratum, and channel morphology were more important than hydraulic, biotic, and chemical variables. These results suggest that at both the reach and channel unit scales, mussel density and distribution are influenced by high flow refugia and the hierarchical structuring of hydrogeomorphic habitat characteristics. These results will assist mussel restoration efforts by providing specific guidance about the types of physical habitat conditions that are suitable for mussels.




This work made publicly available electronically on July 30, 2012.