The University of Texas at Tyler
Tyler   •   Longview   •   Palestine
A centerpiece for learning,
culture and natural beauty

UT Tyler Office of Marketing and Communications

UT Tyler Awarded Research Grant to Study Rare Freshwater Mussels in East Texas

June 25, 2014

Media Contact:  Hannah Buchanan
Public Affairs Specialist
Marketing and Communications
The University of Texas at Tyler
903.565.5769 or 903.539.7196 (cell)

Dr. Neil Ford surveying in the Neches RiverThe University of Texas at Tyler was awarded nearly $300,000 from the Texas Comptroller’s office to expand its study on East Texas freshwater mussels, Dr. Michael Odell, vice president for research and technology transfer, announced.

The UT Tyler research team, led by professor of biology and principal investigator Dr. Neil Ford, will assist the agency to study populations of six East Texas mussels – Texas Pigtoe, Triangle Pigtoe, Louisiana Pigtoe, Sandbank Pocketbook, Southern Hickorynut and Texas Heelsplitter – in the Sabine, Neches and San Jacinto Rivers. All but one, the Southern Hickorynut, are considered for protection through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

Texas Pigtoe Mussel-UT Tyler“We will use predicted distribution maps, generated from our previous mussel data we collected over the last six-plus years from East Texas rivers, to identify sites of high mussel diversity,” Ford said. “We also will address genetic questions regarding the taxonomic status of Pigtoes and the Texas Heelsplitter in East Texas, since their populations are vague because both are difficult to identify in the field.”

Other UT Tyler co-collaborators are associate professor of biology Dr. Lance Williams, research associate Marsha Williams, assistant professor of biology Dr. Joshua Banta, associate professor of biology Dr. John Placyk and assistant professor of civil engineering Dr. Harmonie Hawley.

“Our surveys will allow us to identify potential locations of exotic species that might impact mussel communities. The final product will identify critical habitat and areas of high conservation value for each of the six species that could be used by the USFWS for conservation planning and potential listing,” Ford said.

Louisiana Pigtoe and Southern Hickorynut mussels-UT TylerThe team also will gather habitat characteristics and data on other mussel species presence to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the ecology of these extremely rare mussels.

“For the East Texas species under review, we have located larger populations in the upper Neches and Sabine Rivers where standard population analysis could occur,” he added. “This information can then be used to improve the niche models in the future.”

Serving UT Tyler since 1979, Ford’s research expertise is in life-history evolution. He has examined the life history and behavior of freshwater mussels along with their respective habitats since the 1990s, conducting mussel surveys in East Texas since 1994. His research efforts have brought externally funded grants totaling more than $500,000.

Lance Williams will be responsible for habitat collection and modeling. He has extensive experience in river ecology and conservation and has been involved with extramural grants totally nearly $6 million.

Marsha Williams will serve as the project coordinator, being responsible for GIS components and managing the databases and report writing. She has 17 years of experience in GIS applications for conservation.

Banta will be responsible for ecological niche modeling of the mussel species, with the goal of producing “range maps” of putative habitats for the species across the state. For the past three years, he has been involved in projects bringing more than $500,000 in extramural grants, three of which have directly addressed conservation issues in Texas.

Placyk will be responsible for all molecular genetic work. He has been granted a number of state-level grants that focus on the conservation genetics of various species of conservation concern and has been utilizing genetic data to assist in the conservation of threatened and endangered species since 2000.

Hawley will analyze the water quality and flow parameters that characterize mussel habitats. She also will be responsible for collected geomorphology and hydrology measurements at sites of high mussel diversity to document the habitat conditions and model flow parameters.

For more information, contact Ford, 903.566.7249 or nford@uttyler.edu.

One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler features excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 80 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of more than 7,500 high-ability students. UT Tyler offers courses at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine as well as a location in Houston.

MUSSEL RESEARCH: UT Tyler professor of biology Dr. Neil Ford surveys mussels in the Neches River during a past research project (at top). A marked Texas Pigtoe (above); and (bottom, from left) Louisiana Pigtoe and Southern Hickorynut mussel specimens. A UT Tyler research team, led by Ford, will use a Texas Comptroller's grant to expand its studies on several rare species of East Texas freshwater mussels in three area rivers.

©