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UT Tyler Biology Professor to Examine Freshwater Mussels in Sabine River

June 15, 2007

Dr. Neil Ford, professor of biology at The University of Texas at Tyler, has been awarded a research grant to examine the status of freshwater mussels in the Sabine River, Dr. Alisa White, UT Tyler College of Arts and Sciences interim dean, announced.

The $7,000 award is given to Ford by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

As the primary investigator, Ford will determine the diversity of East Texas mussels within three reserves of the Sabine River. UT Tyler students Jessica Gullett, Canadian senior biology major; and David Kimberley, Westerville, Ohio, graduate student in biology, will assist Ford on the project.

“In addition, information on abundance of four mussels that are species of concern and of high priority will be gathered. These are the Texas pigtoe, Fusconaia askewi; the Texas heelsplitter, Potamilus amphichaenus; the Sandbank pocketbook, Lampsilis satura; and the Rock-pocketbook, Arcidens confragosus,” Ford said.

Freshwater mussels are filter-feeding invertebrates that perform critical ecosystems functions such as removal of large amounts of particles from the water column to deposit them into the substrate, movement of sediments and providing habitat for other organisms.

For many states, including Texas, the extent of the decline for any mussel species is simply not known, Ford said.

“We do know that the impacts of over-harvesting, pollution, reservoirs and other human activities that have been implicated for the decline of species elsewhere are certainly occurring here,” he added.

Although some preliminary surveys of the mussels of Texas have recently begun, the composition of mussels in different river basins is different and many areas are not being examined, according to Ford.

“This study would carefully evaluate the three established reserves on the Sabine River to determine the diversity and abundances of these and other mussel species,” Ford said. “Obtaining information on species of concern was listed as a high priority for this basin as little of the area has protection from development. Determining the status of these rare mussels will be important in making decisions about future water needs for the area.”

One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 70 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of nearly 6,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.

Hannah Buchanan
The University of Texas at Tyler
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