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June 27, 2014

UT Tyler awarded $300K grant to study freshwater mussels in East Texas

TYLER — The University of Texas at Tyler was awarded nearly $300,000 from the Texas Comptroller’s office to expand its study on East Texas freshwater mussels, Dr. Michael Odell, vice president for research and technology transfer, announced.

The UT Tyler research team, led by professor of biology and principal investigator Dr. Neil Ford, will assist the agency tostudy populations of six East Texas mussels – Texas Pigtoe, Triangle Pigtoe, Louisiana Pigtoe, Sandbank Pocketbook, Southern Hickorynut and Texas Heelsplitter – in the Sabine, Neches and San Jacinto Rivers. All but one, the Southern Hickorynut, are considered for protection through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

 “We will use predicted distribution maps, generated from our previous mussel data we collected over the last six-plus years from East Texas rivers, to identify sites of high mussel diversity,” Ford said. “We also will address genetic questions regarding the taxonomic status of Pigtoes and the Texas Heelsplitter in East Texas, since their populations are vague because both are difficult to identify in the field.”

Other UT Tyler co-collaborators are associate professor of biology Dr. Lance Williams, research associate Marsha Williams, assistant professor of biology Dr. Joshua Banta, associate professor of biology Dr. John Placyk and assistant professor of civil engineering Dr. Harmonie Hawley.

“Our surveys will allow us to identify potential locations of exotic species that might impact mussel communities. The finalproduct will identify critical habitat and areas of high conservation value for each of the six species that could be used by the USFWS for conservation planning and potential listing,” Ford said.

The team also will gather habitat characteristics and data on other mussel species presence to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the ecology of these extremely rare mussels.

“For the East Texas species under review, we havelocated larger populations in the upper Neches and Sabine Rivers where standard population analysis could occur,” he added. “This information can then be used to improve the niche models in the future.”

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