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Musseling Milestones

CMU Biology professor Dr. David Zanatta collaborated on the research producing the 150th scientific publication from the CMU Institute for Great Lakes Research (IGLR), “Boundaries and hybridization in a secondary contact zone between freshwater mussel species (Family: Unionidae).” The IGLR’s 150th publication was a collaboration by Dr. Zanatta, Dr. Isabel Porto-Hannes, and Dr. Howard Lasker from the University at Buffalo, and Dr. Lyubov Burlakova from the Great Lakes Center and SUNY Buffalo State. The study was a part of Dr. Porto-Hannes Ph.D. dissertation research. Through their research, the team highlights how crucial correct species identification is for effective conservation and management of native freshwater mussels. However, identification problems arise due to environmental differences that affect the shape of a mussel’s shell.

The research team investigated the degree of hybridization, the interbreeding of two distinct species, between two closely related common freshwater mussel species found in central, northern, and eastern North America; Fatmucket and Eastern Lampmussel. The study included many specimens from Michigan, including a number from a lake on Beaver Island – home of the CMU Biological Station.  Freshwater mussels have two distinct forms of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA); one inherited from mothers to all offspring and the other inherited from fathers to their male offspring. This results in female mussels with their mtDNA coming from a single species and male mussels potentially coming from two species if they are hybrids. DNA sequencing can be used to identify the species based on their mtDNA.

Upon performing mitochondrial analysis, or analysis of mtDNA sequences, the team discovered that over 10% of the specimens sampled in the lower Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River drainages were hybrids. The team further reinforced evidence of hybridization by using microsatellite DNA genotyping (similar to what is used for DNA fingerprinting in forensic science), a technique that allowed for broader-scale investigations than mitochondrial analyses. By providing evidence that supports the occurrence of hybridization in freshwater mussels, Dr. Zanatta’s research highlights an important factor to consider when making plans to protect and recover endangered species.
Dr. Zanatta’s research and the 150th publication mark a milestone for the CMU IGLR and its founding director, Dr. Donald Uzarski. The IGLR was formed on October 19, 2010, after CMU’s College of Science and Engineering recognized Great Lakes research as a CMU strength. Since a multidisciplinary approach is necessary to understand the complex issues surrounding the ecology of the Great Lakes, the IGLR draws faculty and students from a variety of academic departments for collaborative research projects. The institute currently includes 33 faculty members representing 5 areas: Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Engineering, and Geography.
The IGLR also supplies information for external institutions and agencies interested in drawing on CMU's expertise in Great Lakes research. To date, IGLR faculty have received over $33 million in external funds to conduct Great Lakes research, leading to the publication of over 150 peer-reviewed scientific articles. The IGLR faculty members are internationally recognized experts on coastal wetlands, conservation genetics, fisheries, invasive species, limnology, aquatic population modeling, microbial ecology, landscape ecology, geographic information sciences, meteorology, environmental engineering, and beyond. Dr. Donald Uzarski and the IGLR team celebrate this milestone and commit to the continuous growth of the institution by promoting and facilitating collaborative research and education on the Great Lakes.

At CMU We Do Research, We Do Real World

Story by ORGS intern Hailey Nelson

May 2021