Importance of substratum quality for potential competitive niche overlap between native and invasive unionid mussels in Europe.
Infaunal freshwater mussels are highly threatened and declining worldwide. One of the potential threats to mussels consists of biological invasions. We intended to investigate the habitat overlap and behavioural differences between native (Unio pictorum, Unio tumidus, Anodonta anatina, Anodonta cygnea) and invasive (Asian Sinanodonta woodiana) unionid bivalves to determine potential sources of competition. Furthermore, we investigated differences between S. woodiana from the established population in artificially heated waters and from the recent population in a natural thermal regime. We used pairwise choice tests on mud, medium, coarse and very coarse sand, mixture of medium and coarse sand, fine, medium and coarse gravel, and observed mussel locomotion and burrowing in preferred and non-preferred substrata. All species generally preferred fine-grained materials. The widest preference range was exhibited by S. woodiana (both populations), whereas A. cygnea was the most selective. The preferences of the cold-water population of S. woodiana were shifted towards coarser materials compared to conspecifics from the heated waters, and highly overlapped with the preferences of the native species. Anodonta cygnea most often moved horizontally and spent the shortest time deeply burrowed. Both Unio species were deeply burrowed for the largest amount of time and the horizontal locomotion of U. tumidus was the lowest among the test species. Sinanodonta woodiana, especially from the heated water population, exhibited relatively weak locomotion (compared to A. cygnea) and burrowing (compared to Unio spp. and A. anatina). Deep burrowing was more common on fine-grained materials. Our results suggest that the native mussels can be threatened by S. woodiana due to their overlapping habitat preferences, potentially hindering habitat separation. However, mobile native mussels may be capable of migrating and avoiding competition. Accumulating knowledge of the biology and ecology of freshwater mussels could contribute to the creation and improvement of conservation plans to protect these threatened animals.