Although the greatest global diversity of freshwater mussels (~300 species) resides in the United States, the superfamily Unionoidea is also the most imperiled taxon of animals in the nation. Thirty-five species are considered extinct, 70 species are listed as endangered or threatened, and approximately 100 more are species of conservation concern. To prevent additional species losses, biologists have developed methods for propagating juvenile mussels for release into the wild to restore or augment populations. Since 1997, mussel propagation facilities in the United States have released over 1 million juveniles of more than a dozen imperiled species, and survival of these juveniles in the wild has been documented. With the expectation of continued growth of these programs, agencies and facilities involved with mussel propagation must seriously consider the genetic implications of releasing captive-reared progeny. We propose 10 guidelines to help maintain the genetic resources of cultured and wild populations. Preservation of genetic diversity will require robust genetic analysis of source populations to define conservation units for valid species, subspecies, and unique populations. Hatchery protocols must be implemented that minimize risks of artificial selection and other genetic hazards affecting adaptive traits of progeny subsequently released to the wild. We advocate a pragmatic, adaptive approach to species recovery that incorporates the principles of conservation genetics into breeding programs, and prioritizes the immediate demographic needs of critically endangered mussel species.
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Vol. 25 • No. 2