The asiatic clam (Corbicula fluminea) invasion and system-level ecological change in the Potomac River Estuary near Washington, D.C.

Abstract

The exotic freshwater clam speciesCorbicula fluminea (Asiatic clam) was first reported in the tidal freshwater Potomac estuary near Washington, D.C., in 1977, and was found in benthic surveys, conducted in 1978, 1982, 1984, 1986, and 1992. In 1981 a tripling of water clarity was reported in the region of the clam beds, followed in 1983 by reapperance of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) absent for 50 yr. Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) has been surveyed and mapped over the entire Potomac estuary region in almost every year from 1976 to 1993 by aerial photography, as part of the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay program. Fish surveys in 1986 found populations increased up to 7× in beds of SAV. Starting in 1984, the Washington, D.C. Christmas Bird Census reported significant increases in several aquatic bird populations both nonmigratory and migratory. An extensive benthic survey in September 1986 estimated a spring-summer population of 8.7×106 kg Asiatic clams (wet weight including shell) in the 5-km region of the Potomac below Washington, D.C. This population was calculated as having the capacity to filter one-third to all of the water in this region of the estuary daily, depending on river flow. The 1986 clam population was smaller than that of 1984 and the 1992 population was 25% of that in 1986. Since 1986, SAV acreage has been decreasing in this area of the Potomac. Aquatic bird populations have declined. Yearly nuisance algae (Microcystis) blooms, which had been absent since 1983, reappeared in 1993. This paper presents evidence to support the theory the invasive Asiatic clam population in the 10 km below Washington, D.C., was responsible for SAV resurgence through filtration affecting turbidity. It suggests the clam populations triggered system-level changes in biota, including increase and decrease in local Potomac estuary populations (SAV, bird, fish, algae) over 10 yr, from 1983 to 1993. Major changes in the Asiatic clam population took place approximately 2 yr before parallel changes in SAV acreage were observed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Literature Cited

  1. Aldridge, D. W. andR. F. McMahon. 1978. Growth, fecundity, and bioenergetics in a natural population of the Asiatic freshwater clam,Corbicula manilesis Philippi, from North Central Texas.Journal of Molluscan Studies 44:49–70.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bennett, J. P., J. W. Woodward, andD. J. Schultz. 1986. Effect of discharge on the chlorophylla distribution in the tidally-influenced Potomac River.Estuaries 9:250–260.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Briggs, J. andF. D. Peat 1989. Turbulent Mirror. Harper and Row, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Callender, E., V. Carter, D. C. Hahl, K. Hitt, andB. I. Schultz (eds.) 1984. A water quality study of the tidal Potomac River and estuary—An overview. Water Supply Paper 2233. United States Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Carter, V., J. W. Barko, G. L. Godshalk, andN. Rybicki. 1988. Effects of submerged macrophytes on water quality in the tidal Potomac River, Maryland.Journal of Freshwater Ecology 4:493–501.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Carter, V. andN. Rybicki. 1986. Resurgence of submersed aquatic macrophytes in the tidal Potomac River, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.Estuaries 9:368–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Carter, V. andN. Rybicki. 1990. Light attenuation and submersed macrophyte distribution in the tidal Potomac River and estuary.Estuaries 13:441–452.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Chen, L. 1990. Aquaculture in Taiwan. Fishing News Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1970.Audubon Field Notes 24:211.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1971.Audubon Field Notes 25:249–250.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1972.Audubon Field Notes 26:266.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1973.Audubon Field Notes 27:267.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1974.American Birds 28:277–278.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1975.American Birds 29:302–303.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1976.American Birds 30:311–312.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1977.American Birds 31:563–564.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1978.American Birds 32:574–575.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1979.American Birds 33:446–447.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1980.American Birds 34:277–278.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1981.American Birds 35:484–485.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1982.American Birds 35:512–513.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1983.American Birds 37:520.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1984.American Birds 38:547–548.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1985.American Birds 39:541.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1986.American Birds 40:729.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1987.American Birds 41:801–802.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1988.American Birds 42:739.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1989.American Birds 43:782–783.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1990.American Birds 44:683.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1991.American Birds 45:690–691.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Christmas Bird Count, Washington, D.C. 1992.American Birds 46:683.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Cohen, R. R. H., P. V. Dresler, E. J. P. Phillips, andR. L. Cory. 1984. The effect of the Asiatic clam,Corbicula fluminea, on the phytoplankton of the Potomac River, Maryland.Limnology and Oceanography 29:170–180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Dresler, P. V. andR. L. Cory. 1980. The Asiatic clam,Corbicula fluminea (Muller), in the tidal Potomac River, Maryland.Estuaries 3:150–151.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Edmonson, W. T. 1970. Phosphorus, nitrongen, and algae in Lake Washington after diversion of sewage.Science 169:690–691.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Greer, D. E. andC. D. Ziebell. 1972. Biological removal of phosphates from water.Journal of the Water Pollution Control Federation 44:2342–2348.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Griffiths, R. W. 1993. The changing environment of Lake St. Clair. Third International Zebra Mussel Conference, Ontario, Canada. Abstract.

  37. Haines, K. C. 1977. The use ofCorbicula as a clarifying agent in experimental tertiary sewage treatment process on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, p. 165–175.In J. C. Britton (ed.), Proceedings, First International Corbicula Symposium, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas.

  38. Herman, P. M. J. andH. Scholten. 1990. Can suspension feeders stabilise estuarine ecosystems?, p. 104–116.In M. Barnes and R. N. Gibson (eds.), Trophic Relationships in the Marine Environment. Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, United Kingdom.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Howarth, R. W. 1988. Nutrient limitations of net primary productivity in marine ecosystems.Annual Review of Ecology Supplement 19:89–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Jaworski, N. A., D. W. Lear, Jr., andO. Vilia, Jr. 1972. Nutrient management in the Potomac estuary.American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (Special Symposium) I:246–273.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Killgore, K. J., R. P. Morgan II, andL. M. Hurley. 1987. Distribution and abundance of fishes in aquatic vegetation, p. 236–244.In Proceedings 21st Annual Meeting, Aquatic Plant Control Research Program, Miscellaneous Paper A-97-2, U.S. Army Engineering Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Killgore, K. J., R. P. Morgan II, andN. B. Rybicki. 1989. Distribution and abundance of fishes associated with submersed aquatic plants in the Potomac River.North American Journal of Fisheries Management 9:101–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Lauritsen, D.D. 1986. Filter-feeding inCorbicula fluminea and its effect on seston removal.Journal of the North American Benthological Society 5:165–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Lippson, A. J., M. S. Haire, A. F. Holland, F. Jacobs, J. Jensen, R. L. Moran-Johnson, T. T. Polgar, andW. A. Richkus. 1984. Environmental Atlas of the Potomac Estuary. Martin Marietta Corporation, Baltimore, Maryland.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. 1987. Potomac River Water Quality—1985. Washington, District of Columbia.

  46. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. 1993. Potomac River Algae Watch, Washington, District of Columbia.

  47. Morgan, R. P., II,K. J. Killgore, andN. H. Douglas. 1989. Modified popnet design for collecting fish in varying depths of submersed aquatic vegetation.Journal of Freshwater Ecology 4:533–539.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Newell, R. I. E. 1988. Ecological changes in Chesapeake Bay water quality: Are they the result of overharvesting the American oyster?, p. 536–546.In M. P. Lynch and E. C. Krome (eds.), Understanding the Estuary: Advances in Chesapeake Bay Research. Chesapeake Research Consortium, Solomons, Maryland.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Orth, R. J., J. F. Nowak, A. A. Frisch, K. P. Kiley, and J. R. Whiting. 1991. Distribution of submerged aquatic vegetation in the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries and Chincoteague Bay—1990. Report to United States Environmental Protection Agency, Annapolis, Maryland.

  50. Phelps, H. L., 1985. Summer 1984 survey of mollusc populations of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers near Washington, DC. Report to the District of Columbia Environmental Services, Washington, District of Columbia.

  51. Phelps, H. L. 1987. A study of the distribution and abundance of the clamCorbicula in the Potomac River estuary. Report to Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Washington, District of Columbia.

  52. Phelps, H. L. 1992.Corbicula clams as water purifying agents in fish culture and possible food use: Phase III. Report to the University of the District of Columbia Agricultural Experiment Station, Washington, District of Columbia.

  53. Phelps, H. L. 1993.Corbicula production and marketing techniques in Taiwan: Report on factfinding trip August 1993. Report to the University of the District of Columbia Research Council, Washington, District of Columbia.

  54. Potomac SAV News Bulletin. 1991. Potomac SAV stays south for second year in a row. Summer 3. Washington, District of Columbia.

  55. Prokopovich, N. P. 1969. Deposition of clastic sediments by clams.Journal of Sedimentary Petrography 39:891–901.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Sand-Jensen, K. andM. Sondergaard. 1981. Phytoplankton and epiphyte development and their shading effect on submerged macrophytes in lakes of different nutrient status.Hydrobiologia 66:529–552.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Smith, R. E. and R. E. Herndon. 1980. Physical and chemical properties of the Potomac River and environs, August–September 1977. United States Geological Survey. Open-File Report 78-1635.

  58. Sickel, J. B. 1977. Population dynamics ofCorbicula in the Altamaha River, Georgia, p. 69–80.In J. C. Britton (ed.), Proceedings, First InternationalCorbicula Symposium, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas.

  59. Skubinna, J. P., T. G. Coon, C. D. McNabb, and T. R. Batterson. 1993. Initial response of submersed macrophytes to increased water clarity in Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron, Michigan. Third International Zebra Mussel Conference, Ontario, Canada. Abstract.

  60. Thom, R. 1975. Structural Stability and Morphogenesis. Translation by, D. H. Fowler, Benjamin Press. Reading, Massachusetts.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Ulanowicz, R. E. andJ. H. Tuttle. 1992. The trophic consequences of oyster stock rehabilitation in Chesapeake Bay.Estuaries 15:298–306.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  62. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 1982. The Chesapeake Bay Program, Annapolis, Maryland.

  63. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 1989. The state of the Chesapeake Bay. Third biennial monitoring report. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Subcommittee, Annapolis, Maryland.

    Google Scholar 

  64. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 1992. Chesapeake Bay submerged aquatic vegetation habitat requirements and restoration targets: A technical synthesise. Annapolis, Maryland.

  65. United States Geological Survey. 1993. Information from the Public Affairs Office, United States Geological Survey, Washington, District of Columbia.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Phelps, H.L. The asiatic clam (Corbicula fluminea) invasion and system-level ecological change in the Potomac River Estuary near Washington, D.C.. Estuaries 17, 614–621 (1994). https://doi.org/10.2307/1352409

Download citation

Keywords

  • Submerge Aquatic Vegetation
  • Tidal Freshwater
  • Asiatic Clam
  • Clam Population
  • Corbicula Fluminea