Clubs, riffles and rays of New York

This post is part of a series running all month on freshwater mussels, highlighting their importance to the Northeast landscape and the concerted efforts underway to ensure their future in our waters.

The Allegheny River basin holds globally significant populations of four species of mussels federally listed as endangered. They are northern riffleshell (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana), clubshell (Pleurobema clava), rayed bean (Villosa fabalis) and snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra).

Surveys in the upper Allegheny River basin in New York and Pennsylvania have found populations of these species in the past, but portions of the mainstem Allegheny River and its tributaries remain un-surveyed or have incomplete surveys — an obstacle to truly achieving recovery.

Diver looking for riffleshell and clubshell mussels. Credit: Jeremy Tiemann Il/Natural History Survey

Diver looking for riffleshell and clubshell mussels. Credit: Jeremy Tiemann Il/Natural History Survey

The Service’s New York Field Office has recovery responsibility for at least two of the mussel species; the clubshell and rayed bean. Clubshell prefers clean, loose sand and gravel found in small rivers and streams (riffles). The rayed bean also prefers this habitat but is found among aquatic vegetation. 

In the upper Allegheny basin, mussel populations are threatened by poor water quality and loss of habitat. Activities that threaten mussels and their habitat include mining and channelization of streams, erosion of streambanks, pollutants, roads, pipelines and water withdrawals. 

Conservation measures can minimize impacts to mussels and sustainable land use practices can improve mussel habitat. Examples include maintaining stream buffers and minimizing erosion and sedimentation rates by using erosion control methods during construction.  

Endangered clubshell mussel. Credit: Craig Stihler/USFWS

Endangered clubshell mussel. Credit: Craig Stihler/USFWS

Recovery actions include conducting presence/absence surveys to assess abundance and identifying and  prioritizing certain streams for restoration and protection.  The field office is partnering with the Western Pennsylvania Land Conservancy to conduct surveys in streams that provide suitable habitat for these species. 

The surveys will be conducted in 2013. Stay tuned!

Submitted by Sandra Doran in the Service’s New York Field Office.

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