The status of the freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera Linn. in Scotland

P J Cosgrove, M R Young, L C Hastie, M Gaywood, P J Boon

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1. One hundred and sixty rivers in Scotland with historical records of freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera were surveyed between 1996 and 1999 for the presence of the species.

2. M. margaritifera populations were classed as either 'extinct' (no mussels remaining),'not currently viable' (ranging from only dead shells present to no juveniles present, regardless of the number of adults found), or 'functional' (at least one juvenile was found, regardless of the overall numbers of adults present).

3. M. margaritifera populations could be classed as functional: in only 52 rivers (34% of total surveyed) and in only 17 of these were juveniles below 20 mm (5 yrs old) present. Furthermore, in only 10 of these functional rivers were mussels also still considered either to be common or abundant and these included both large easterly-flowing rivers and small western rivers and streams.

4. In approximately two-thirds (101) of the 155 rivers occupied 100 years ago, M. margaritifera is now extinct or is about to become extinct. Furthermore, analysis indicates that the rate of mussel population extinction has accelerated since 1970, with a recent average of two mussel river extinctions per year.

5. The predominant threat to the mussel populations has undoubtedly been pearl fishing. This has been occurring at every river, even in the most remote northwest areas, where most of the 'functional' populations remain. Recent legislation has provided full protection to M. margaritifera, so that all pearl harvesting is now illegal.

6. Locally, river engineering and host salmonid stock decline poses a serious threat and eutrophication has already eliminated populations in southern and eastern Scotland.

7. In every part of its global range, M. margaritifera has declined substantially and is now either threatened with extinction or is highly vulnerable. Based on recent estimates from across the species range, it appears that Scotland now probably holds at least half of the world's remaining functional M. margaritifera populations. Copyright (C) 2000 John Wiley & Soils, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-208
Number of pages12
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • freshwater mussels
  • population status
  • juveniles
  • rivers
  • threats
  • pearl fishing
  • salmonids
  • Margaritifera


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