Texas State University has been awarded a $2.3 million grant by the Texas Comptroller’s office for a study of freshwater mussels in the Brazos, Colorado and Guadalupe river basins.
The grant will fund research into four species of freshwater mussels native to the Central Texas area. The research program’s goal is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the four species to assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in determining whether or not to place them on the endangered species list.
“We are at the information gathering stage,” said Timothy Bonner, professor of biology at Texas State and director of the university’s aquatic biology program, who will lead the research team. “The Fish and Wildlife Service needs more information.”
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced the funding to ensure the best science is available for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decisions. The study is expected to be the most comprehensive of its kind in the Southwest region. The comptroller’s office will coordinate research and the stakeholder process with Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bonner and other Texas State faculty and students will work with scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s San Marcos Aquatic Research Center, the Inks Dam and Uvalde Fish Hatcheries, BIO-West, Inc., and Auburn University.
The four species are being considered for the endangered list because, among other reasons, they all have naturally narrow distributional ranges, said Bonner. The species in question are found only in the specific region of the Brazos, Colorado and Guadalupe river basins. This leaves the mussels especially vulnerable to environmental changes and under-studied by the scientific community.
“Mussels are a generally under-studied organism,” Bonner said. “Where are they located? Are they declining? How can we be better stewards of our water systems?”
The research will examine the amount and distribution of mussels in the target area, as well as consider the conditions needed to maintain the mussels’ habitat. Additionally, it will evaluate methods for breeding mussels in hatcheries and the reintroduction of those mussels to their native habitat.
“A big component of this project is working with the Fish and Wildlife Service and their hatchery systems,” Bonner said.
The project will be the most expansive of its kind in Texas, addressing questions and filling in gaps in knowledge about the species in order to determine their need for protection.
“It’s very much in the pioneering spirit,” Bonner said. “We’re going to dedicate time and energy into investigating the unknown.”
With the information provided by the project’s research, the Fish and Wildlife Service plans to make listing decisions on the species by September 2018.
“This is a great opportunity for Texas State undergraduate and graduate students to get involved with a contemporary aquatic biology issue,” Bonner said.