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Carter's Freshwater Mussels

What is Spyvalve?

Bivalves, which include mussels, oysters, scallops and clams, play an important role in ecosystem functioning. As filter feeders, bivalves continuously taste the water for food. When they taste something they don’t like they can either reject the particles via pseudofeces or, in the case of more soluble pollution, close their shell for protection. By monitoring this behaviour in real time, we can detect pollution events as they occur. This enables the source of the pollution to be identified with the hope of preventing future events. Man made pollutants can have a range of impacts on aquatic fauna and under certain conditions cause mass mortality events of fish. However, because fish initially sink following mortality and only become visible when they float to the surface once gas, produced from microbial decomposition, has built up inside their body. Consequently, reporting of fish kills, which is heavily reliant on the public, is several days after the event and the cause often remains a mystery.... until now!

Using electronic sensors Spyvalve turns bivalves into SPIES, which can detect stress in real time.

Spyvalve uses bivalves to spy on aquatic environments by attaching sensors to each opposing valve. The sensors measure the amount of electromagnetic energy between the valves. When the shell is closed, the magnet is at is closest to the sensor and the amount of magnetic energy is at its greatest. In contrast, when the shell is open the magnetic energy recieved by the sensor is far less. The data are then uploaded to the network in real time. Under normal conditions, many speceis of bivalves rarely close for longer than a few minutes.


The _ cybernetic water monitoring project has just been launched

The __ cybernetic water monitoring project, which is the first of its kind in the world, has developed an early warning and response system for fish kills in the Peel-Harvey Estuary in south-western Australia where fish kills typically occur several times per year.

The project employs three different species of bivalves in three different habitats. These include Carter´s freshwater mussel, which is endemic to the region and listed as threatened under Australia´s environment law, the Black Pygmy Mussel, which is constrained to the brackish water of the estuary and the Mediterranean Mussel near the mouth of the estuary where salinities remain marine.

The early warning and response system

At each of the six locations, eight mussels are fitted with sensors to monitor shell gaping behaviour. The data are live streamed to the network and monitored by local community groups, which comprise indigenous ranger and school groups. When all mussels at a station close for 5 minutes an alarm is raised and the respective community group can undertake initial assessments.

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Participating community groups

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To find out what the bivalvles are doing near you click on a map icon.


Benefits of using bivalves to detect stress

Traditionally, aquatic ecosystems have been monitored through measuring water quality parameters and the values of those parameters used to infer the effect the water has on its fauna. However, not only is it impossible to measure every water parameter, but the synergistic effects of water quality parameters are largely unknown. Biological monitoring (biomonitoring) has a huge advantage over these traditional approaches as it measures directly the response by the fauna.

Bivalves also exist in almost all aquatic environments from freshwater lakes, rivers and estuaries, coastal waters to the deep ocean and from the poles to the equator. These feature, along with their typical sessile life style, makes bivalves the best class of fauna for biomonitoring. Spyvalve uses these bivalves to spy on aquatic environments through sensors attached to each opposing valve. The sensors measure the amount of electromagnetic energy between the valves which varies depending on whether the valves are in the open or closed position. Under normal conditions, bivalves rarely close for longer than a few minutes.

When all bivalves at a location remain closed for a period of time, an alert is raised for that location.

Spyvalve´s Advanced Biological Monitoring approach has a wide range of applications.
  • detect fish kills before they occur
  • determine the effects of heat waves on coral reef communities
  • environmental flows, i.e. the amount of flow required to maintain ecosystem functioning in rivers
  • can help elucidate the effects of climate change and other anthropogenic impacts on aquatic ecosystems
  • can be used to determining the suitability of habitats for shellfish reef restoration
  • to test locations for commercial aquaculture