Estimates of historical variability in river ecosystems are often lacking, but long-lived freshwater mussels could provide unique opportunities to understand past conditions in these environments. We applied dendrochronology techniques to quantify historical variability in growth-increment widths in valves (shells) of western pearlshell freshwater mussels (Margaritifera falcata). A total of 3 growth-increment chronologies, spanning 19 to 26 y in length, were developed. Growth was highly synchronous among individuals within each site, and to a lesser extent, chronologies were synchronous among sites. All 3 chronologies negatively related to instrumental records of stream discharge, while correlations with measures of water temperature were consistently positive but weaker. A reconstruction of stream discharge was performed using linear regressions based on a mussel growth chronology and the regional Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Models based on mussel growth and PDSI yielded similar coefficients of prediction (R2Pred) of 0.73 and 0.77, respectively, for predicting out-ofsample observations. From an ecological perspective, we found that mussel chronologies provided a rich source of information for understanding climate impacts. Responses of mussels to changes in climate and stream ecosystems can be very site- and process-specific, underscoring the complex nature of biotic responses to climate change and the need to understand both regional and local processes in projecting climate impacts on freshwater species.
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