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Meet a leading scientist in freshwater mussel conservation

Biologist Jess Jones of our Virginia field office just received the Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence. Jess is a national leader in freshwater mussel conservation. Credit: USFWS

Biologist Jess Jones of our Virginia field office just received the 2013 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence. Jess is a national leader in freshwater mussel conservation. Credit: USFWS

You’ve heard us say this many times…Freshwater mussels are not rocks. They’re way more than just shells covering river bottoms. Mussel populations tell us if the river is healthy, meaning it is a good resource for drinking water, for fishing, and for waterfowl and other species.

Now, here’s something even more incredible than mussels’ crazy names (like Appalachian monkeyface pearlymussel) or their amazing skills for tricking fish. There are more types of freshwater mussels in Virginia and Tennessee’s Powell River than in all of Europe. Their existence there has been threatened many times–including by two large oil spills that caused the loss of much habitat.

This is where Jess Jones steps in. Jess is a national leader in freshwater mussel conservation and restoration. Recipient of the 2013 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence, Jess works with the latest technology to breed and raise juvenile mussels at Virginia Tech’s Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center for release in the Clinch and Powell rivers. He’s based out of our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in eastern Virginia.

How incredible is his work?

  • After one of Virginia’s most catastrophic spills destroyed one of the last remaining populations of the endangered tan riffleshell, Jess worked with other agencies to release more than 26,000 mussel larvae (glochidia) and juvenile mussels to augment the 100 adult tan riffleshells that remained.
  • The laboratory Jess oversees has successfully reared thousands of juvenile endangered oyster mussels to breeding age (4 years) and has recently documented that these mussels are reproducing in captivity.
  • Jess and his partners have released hundreds of thousands of hatchery-reared mussels to restore one of the nation’s most biologically diverse ecosystems. In 2010, his team released 2,500 endangered oyster mussels.
  • Through his novel monitoring methodologies, Jess has confirmed that survival and growth rates for propagated and released mussels at multiple sites are very similar to natural rates in the sections of the same rivers not affected by the spills.

Breeding mussels and supporting populations that will survive into the future are no simple tasks. The freshwater mussel life cycle is one of the most complex in the animal world (check out our video on it). They face incredible challenges for survival, as the quality of their stream and river homes is affected by land use, industries, climate change and invasive species.

We couldn’t be more appreciative of Jess’ scientific expertise and dedication for conserving and restoring the incredible diversity of Virginia’s waters — and contributing to the health and well-being of wildlife and people. Congratulations, Jess!

Jess took his passion mussel conservation abroad to China — check out his blog from the trip!

2 thoughts on “Meet a leading scientist in freshwater mussel conservation

  1. We need your help US Nitrogen is going to dump there waste water in the Nolivhucky river in Tennessee. Will that kill the mussels and fish Thank you. Save the Nolichucky river

    • Thanks for your comment, Roger. We’re glad to hear that you’re thinking about the mussels and fish! Our Tennessee office has been working on this project to reduce effects to threatened and endangered species.

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