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#IntheField: Fall Reflections of the River

Our Curator of Malacology, Gerry Dinkins, is back with more notes from the field. Here is how a malacologist spends their fall in south.
Nolichucky Oystermussel

The federally endangered oyster mussel (Epioblasma capsaeformis) can be found on the Nolichucky River.

September 2020 proved to be a good time to survey freshwater mussel populations in the southeast. River levels were low because there was less rainfall, which means we could safely access the riverbed. Also, I was able to engage with UT students during their semester coursework.

Early in the month, I led UT’s fall camp of the Wildlife and Fisheries Science Department on a field trip to a remote section of the Nolichucky River.  For about five years, I have been monitoring the mussel community on a shoal in the lower reach of the river where two federally endangered species occur. The class was divided into groups, and each group made a series of timed searches for live mussels in and around the shoal.  In all, about 20 species of mussels were found. Most excitingly, students were able to observe the endangered oyster mussel (Epioblasma capsaeformis).

Big South Fork

Moving mussels at the Big South Fork requires spending a lot of time in the water.

In mid-September, my field crew and I spent two days in a remote section of the Big South Fork searching for and relocating freshwater mussels from two sections of the river where the National Park Service allows horse riders to cross.  Since 2015, we have moved many hundred live mussels to suitable habitat nearby and out of harm’s way.  Many of these mussels have had an individually numbered tag affixed to the outside of the shell for long-term monitoring purposes.

Surveying Mussels

Surveying mussels at the Obed River makes for a good day at the office.

Later in September, my field crew and I traveled to a section of the Obed Wild and Scenic River with Rebecca Schapansky of the National Park Service as part of NPS’ annual monitoring of the freshwater mussel community.  The conditions were ideal for the task at hand:  blue skies, clear, warm water, and several species of mussels to observe, identify, and measure.

Surveying and tracking mollusk species in our rivers and streams is important to  deciphering the health of our waterways. These animals play a key role in the ecosystem, and the McClung Museum’s scholarship in malacology is paramount in the region. The recent publication about the Barren River Basin is one example of how critical this work is to the scientific community and to the protection of our natural resources.

Obed River

The Obed Wild and Scenic River