Surprisingly little is known about fresh water mussels, but over the past few years the biology team at The University of Texas at Tyler has worked to change that.
Dr. Neil Ford has spearheaded the efforts to learn more about the 37 types of mussels found in East Texas and the impact they have on the ecosystem.
The research, in its final year of grant funding, has allowed the biologists to study mussel habitats in every river in East Texas.
“What each type does, we don’t really know,” he said. “They filter out bacteria, which is good for us. It may be that different sizes of mussels filter different sizes of bacteria. They also filter algae.”
Of the 37 species, the Triangle Pig Toe is the rarest. Ford is working to have them federally listed as an endangered species.
“The rare species may have always been rare, but when we start building dams and moving things, they seem to be more susceptible to problems,” Ford said.
The Triangle Pig Toe has only been found in a few places in the region and only the Angelina River near the Cherokee County line has yielded significant numbers of the mussel.
Biology student Marisa Quevedo has spent the summer working on a research project with Dr. Lance Williams to ascertain the effects of bank erosion and climate change on the mussels.
“Freshwater mussels are often called ‘the canaries of the waterways,’” Quevedo said. “Similar to a canary in a coal mine, freshwater mussels tend to decrease in numbers as aquatic environments change for the worse.”
One of the biggest threats to freshwater mussels is nitrogen runoff from farming and chicken farms.
“When you go look at those areas, the water is solid green and it often times has vegetation, like duckweed, just covering it,” Ford said.
In the areas with significant runoff, the mussel populations are nonexistent because the mussels are unable to get the sunlight they need to thrive.
The research Quevedo and Williams are performing tests the…