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Scientists roll out 'not-welcome' mats to kill Tahoe clams

July 9, 2010

Watch a video of UC Davis scientist divers Marion Wittmann and Brant Allen roll out rubber mats on the lake bottom:

TERC Clam Barrier Installation from Hal Sloane on Vimeo.

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Lake Tahoe scientists at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Nevada, working with government and conservation organizations, this week began a novel attempt to control a dime-sized clam that threatens the spectacular lake's ecological balance -- including its trademark clarity.

The problem is the non-native Asian clam, Corbicula fluminea. First observed in the lake in 2002, the Asian clam population in some places now has reached thousands per square yard, mainly along the California-Nevada state line in the southeast corner of the lake.

The Asian clam is undesirable because it:

  • Displaces native clams, snails and other organisms living on the lake bottom, which are important members of the lake's native food web;
  • Fosters the growth of bright green algae, which change the look of the water, and smell when they decompose; and
  • Could help foster an invasion of quagga mussels, another aggressive non-native species, by creating desirable habitat for them.

The novel control effort involves installing an acre of rubber sheeting on the lake bottom to kill the clams by depriving them of oxygen. The sheeting will remain in place all summer.

“The goal of this experiment is to determine whether it is feasible to control clams using impermeable bottom barriers," said Geoffrey Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. "We need to know how to efficiently deploy and remove large areas of rubber sheeting, and when it is all done, we must know whether the clams recolonize the treated areas.”

The "dissolved oxygen deprivation" strategy was devised and tested on small patches of lake bottom last summer by Lake Tahoe experts at UC Davis and the University of Nevada, Reno.

That study and the results of this year's acre-scale experiment will be used to help Tahoe Basin agencies develop a clam-management strategy.

The scientists leading the experiment are UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center postdoctoral researcher Marion Wittmann, director Schladow and associate director John Reuter, and University of Nevada, Reno, associate professor Sudeep Chandra.

The Asian clam experimental control effort is coordinated by the Lake Tahoe Asian Clam Working Group, a collaboration of scientists, environmental agencies and water suppliers.

Members include the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center; University of Nevada, Reno; Tahoe Resource Conservation District; Tahoe Regional Planning Agency; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board; California Department of Parks and Recreation; Nevada Division of State Lands; Nevada Division of Environmental Protection; Round Hill General Improvement District; and Incline Village General Improvement District.

The estimated $648,000 cost of the experimental treatment will be funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nevada Division of State Lands and the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act.

In total, $1.4 million has been allocated by working group agencies for Asian clam control work around Lake Tahoe.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board has dedicated $700,000 to controlling Asian clams in Lake Tahoe, some of which will be used to expand work into Emerald Bay in 2011.

About the Tahoe Environmental Research Center

The Tahoe Environmental Research Center is dedicated to research, education and public outreach on lakes and their surrounding watersheds and airsheds. Lake ecosystems include the physical, biogeochemical and human environments, and the interactions among them. The center is committed to providing objective scientific information for restoration and sustainable use of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 32,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $600 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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