Watershed inventories and population monitoring are essential components of efforts to conserve and recover freshwater mussel diversity in Canada. We used two datasets to assess the efficacy of a quadrat-based sampling protocol for: (1) detecting mussel species at risk; (2) characterizing species composition; (3) providing accurate estimates of abundance; and (4) detecting changes in density. The protocol is based on a systematic design (with random starts) that samples 20% of monitoring sites with visual-tactile surface searches and excavation of 1 m2
quadrats. The first dataset included 40 sampling sites in five Ontario rivers, and the second dataset consisted of complete census sampling at two 375 m2
sites that represented contrasting mussel assemblages. Our results show that the protocol can be expected to detect the majority of species present at a site and provide accurate and precise estimates of total mussel density. Excavation was essential for detection of small individuals and to accurately estimate abundance. However, the protocol was of limited usefulness for reliable detection of most species at risk. Furthermore, imprecise density estimates precluded detection of all but the most extreme changes in density of most individual species. Meeting monitoring objectives will require either substantially greater sampling effort under the current protocol, or a fundamental revision of the sampling approach.
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