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062322 big thicket musslesAn assortment of freshwater mussels collected by the Sabine River Authority during a sampling trip to Lake Fork Creek, a tributary of the Sabine River, on Sept. 17, 2020. Aubry Buzek/USFWS

By Mary Catherine Johnston
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Mussel research, facilitated with the BTA’s Thicket of Diversity funding, has resulted in a journal publication in Hydrobiologia. Alison Tarter, Southern Regional Climate Center, Texas A&M; Tarter and A.N. Schwalb, Texas State University; D.F. Ford, Edge Engineering and Science, Houston; D.E. Symonds, Stantec Consulting, Columbus, OH; and N.B Ford, University of Texas at Tyler published “Impact of extreme climatic events on unionid mussels in a subtropical river basin.” They tested specific predictions of extreme climatic events on freshwater mussels, a species that is highly imperiled. Recent and historical Big Thicket mussel data was compared.

Drought had the most detrimental impact leading to community-wide declines. Flooding led to shifts in community composition and spatial distribution. It was noted that dominance of species shifted to those more tolerable of disturbance.

The impact of flooding was likely buffered by connectivity with extensive backwater areas, forming large wetlands, which may serve as crucial refuges for mussels during extreme climatic events. According to the authors, protecting wetlands is crucial to protect freshwater mussels and the ecosystem services they provide.

Research was performed through the Thicket of Diversity with penalty monies from a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality enforcement action. Tarter and Schwalb research is active and ongoing as recipients of funding for “Freshwater mussel biodiversity survey and evaluation of population response to catastrophic flooding within the Big Thicket National Preserve (part 2).”

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