Submitted by: Mary Catherine Johnston, Past President
Mona Halvorsen, Director Thicket of Diversity
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March 24, 2015
Big Thicket Mussel Science Cafe
Dr. Neil Ford, Biology professor at University of Texas Tyler, presented research completed within the Big Thicket National Preserve on freshwater mussels at the Logon Café on March 11th to an audience of about 60. Dr. Ford has worked closely with Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Bob Howell, author of Mussels of Texas. In his most recent project with the Thicket of Diversity, Ford and his graduate students completed 33 surveys in Big Thicket units. The results of the survey produced the identification of 23 species of mussels and 861 specimens were counted or collected. Of the 23 species 6 are considered State Threatened.
Participants were especially fascinated with mussel reproduction. Many mussels reproduce externally. Mussels squirt larva or glochidia into the mouths of fish. The baby mussels act like parasites and attach to the mouth or gills of fish. They grow and several weeks later drop off causing little damage to the fish. The host fish is responsible for moving the populations of mussels.
An exciting discovery was made on Village Creek when the rarest Southern Hickorynut mussel was found. No live mussels were found below Lake Steinhagen Dam. This is probably due to scouring and the intensity levels of always changing water flows. However, the oxbow and tributaries off the Neches River below the dam did support diverse populations. These findings merit further research.
Mussels need stable habitats and clean, flowing water to survive. They are threatened from pollution, changing water levels and temperatures, and by agriculture. Mussels are not tolerant to ammonia from cattle. Other threats include invasive species such as the Asian clam which is now found everywhere. Zebra mussels, another invasive species, found in the Trinity River are being closely watched.
Dr. Ford’s data will be entered into a national database as part of the Thicket of Diversity All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory. Funding for Ford’s research was facilitated through a Park Partnership between the Big Thicket Association and the National Park Service. Additional research funding was made possible through penalty monies from a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality enforcement action.
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