Like beavers and corals, freshwater mussels are ecosystem engineers, changing the environment in which they live. A bed of freshwater mussels is instrumental in making water healthy for both wildlife and humans. Mussels eat by passing water over their gills and trapping solids. This includes dirt, algae, and pollutants. They transform the solids into nutrients, some of which they use for their growth, while the rest is released back into the water as food for other living things.
In many ways, mussels are the workhorses of our rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. By cleaning the water and allowing light to reach the bottom, they enable plants to grow. They also provide hiding places for other organisms, stabilize stream and lake beds so that critters can crawl around, and offer a structure where other creatures can attach their eggs.