UW-Oshkosh student's surprising research on zebra mussels

Zebra Mussel Shells
Zebra Mussel Shells

OSHKOSH - When you hear about zebra mussels, the common thought is the damage the invasive species causes , but a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student says the mussels have some positive side effects.

When zebra mussel shells pile up on lakefront property, it's easy to see why owners worry about lower property values.

Martin Meder's friend voiced this concern and a light bulb went off.

"I'm an economics student, surely I can find out exactly how bad they are for property prices. So I started looking up research on the subject and there's nothing," Meder explained.

So in 2012 Meder started his own study. He told FOX 11 he conducted thousands of hours of statistical research on mostly lake front vacation properties in north-central Wisconsin.

"Zebra musses are associated with, approximately, a 10 percent increase in property prices," said Meder.

You read that right.

"Zebra mussels do some things people like," Meder explained.

Meder told us, for example, the mussels provide better water clarity. They make it difficult for some unwanted fish like carp to feed. The mussels also thrive in lakes with high levels of calcium carbonate, a chemical compound that impacts the color of the water.

"These lakes are a lovely shade of blue. Which people are willing to pay more for," said Meder.

But remember, this is an economic study, not a biological one.

"As a biologist I wouldn't say there's an advantage to having zebra mussels in your lake," said UW-Oshkosh biology professor Bob Pillsbury.

Pillsbury told us the long-term effects of zebra mussels could be devastating.

"A lot of species tend to disappear or become fewer," said Pillsbury.

Pillsbury told us the mussels take away an important food source.

"Anything that uses a plankton resource, and a lot of fish do, young fish and our native clams, they don't do as well," Pillsbury explained.

Then there's the piles of shells and the pain they cause human eyes and feet.

Pillsbury and Meder told us it's all really a matter of give and take.

Meder will display his research at Posters in the Rotunda in Madison Wednesday. He will also present at the Midwest Economics Association next week.