Freshwater mussels in the Murray-Darling Basin

Freshwater mussels live in streams and lakes in the Murray–Darling Basin. River mussels and floodplain mussels are the most common types of freshwater mussels.

Benefits of freshwater mussels

Freshwater mussels are important for rivers, creeks and wetlands in the Basin.

They improve water quality by acting as a natural filter. This filtering removes algae, bacteria and organic matter from the water.

Freshwater mussels are a crucial food source for wildlife. Fish and other animals eat the waste product of mussels.

Freshwater mussels are important to First Nations peoples. They are a source of food and their shells are often used as tools.

Risks to freshwater mussels

Extreme drought and hot summers cause rivers to dry up, putting mussels at risk.

To survive, freshwater mussels travel over land to find water. They can also burrow into the cool, damp ground. Once out of the water, freshwater mussels are vulnerable.

Our research shows:

  • floodplain mussels can survive for months when it's dry and cool, while river mussels only survive for a few weeks
  • both species can survive for only a few days when it's hot
  • both species are vulnerable in drought or low flows.

Protecting freshwater mussels

We work with water and land managers and planners to protect mussel populations. Further work is needed to:

  • maintain river flows and develop flow targets
  • protect plants that provide shade for mussels
  • prevent rivers from drying up
  • locate where mussels live
  • review the status of mussel conservation.

Learn more

For more information, download our resources on mussels: