The development and implementation of a population supplementation and restoration plan for any endangered species should involve an understanding of the species’ habitat requirements prior to the release of any captive bred individuals. The freshwater pearl mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera, has undergone dramatic declines over the last century and is now globally endangered. In Northern Ireland, the release of captive bred individuals is being used to support wild populations and repatriate the species in areas where it once existed. We employed a combination of maximum entropy modelling (MAXENT) and Generalized Linear Mixed Models (GLMM) to identify ecological parameters necessary to support wild populations using GIS-based landscape scale and ground-truthed habitat scale environmental parameters. The GIS-based landscape scale model suggested that mussel occurrence was associated with altitude and soil characteristics including the carbon, clay, sand, and silt content. Notably, mussels were associated with a relatively narrow band of variance indicating that M. margaritifera has a highly specific landscape niche. The ground-truthed habitat scale model suggested that mussel occurrence was associated with stable consolidated substrates, the extent of bankside trees, presence of indicative macrophyte species and fast flowing water. We propose a three phase conservation strategy for M. margaritifera identifying suitable areas within rivers that (i) have a high conservation value yet needing habitat restoration at a local level, (ii) sites for population supplementation of existing populations and (iii) sites for species reintroduction to rivers where the mussel historically occurred but is now locally extinct. A combined analytical approach including GIS-based landscape scale and ground-truthed habitat scale models provides a robust method by which suitable release sites can be identified for the population supplementation and restoration of an endangered species. Our results will be highly influential in the future management of M. margaritifera in Northern Ireland.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
Impact: Environmental Impact, Economic Impact