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An accurate chronology for the exchange of aquatic species between water basins is important for paleoenvironmental reconstruction on both regional and continental scales. During the early Holocene, the range of zebra mussels, Dreissena polymorpha, was limited to the Black, Azov, Caspian, and Aral Seas, as well as the estuaries and lower and middle reaches of the Pontic-Caspian rivers. We present new findings that challenge the currently held view that this species migrated into the Baltic Sea watershed during the early 1800s through the canals joining the tributaries of rivers that drain into the Black and Baltic Sea basins. Geological investigations along the southeast Baltic Sea coast (Curonian and Vistula spits and lagoons) have uncovered shells of D. polymorpha that yielded radiocarbon ages older than 1000 radiocarbon yr B.P. We propose two scenarios to explain the new radiocarbon dates for D. polymorpha. The first scenario involves an anomalously large reservoir effect—as large as 600–800 yr—however, several lines of evidence cast doubt upon the validity of such a large reservoir correction. The second scenario that might explain the old zebra mussel ages is the earlier arrival of Dreissena polymorpha into the Baltic region. Natural exchange may have been facilitated by the proximity of the tributaries draining the Pontic and Baltic watersheds. Human-mediated transport is also considered in association with Viking voyages from the Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas between A.D. 800 and 1000, and the riverine trade exchange during the Lithuanian expansion into the Pontic steppe in subsequent centuries. It is likely that both scenarios played a role, with implications for late Holocene biogeography and paleoecology of the Pontic-Caspian and Baltic basins.

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