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Surveying Mussels in French Creek

August 22, 2019 03:00 PM

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Joe BrancatoIf I were to ask what a Mucket, Elktoe, Purple Wartyback and Round Pigtoe was, you would probably assume they were something out of a Harry Potter book.  While these things have nothing to do with the wizarding world, they do work their magic in our Pennsylvania streams and rivers. These are just four of the 67 freshwater species of mussels located in the commonwealth. The magic to which I was referring takes place when they filter millions of gallons of water every day. Mussels remove algae, bacteria and sediment from the water and act as “canaries in the coal mine,” providing early indication to issues that may be occurring in a watershed. They also provide habitat for smaller fish and macroinvertebrates and are essential in the diets of other animals such as freshwater drum, muskrats, racoons, and river otters. 

Rabbitsfoot musselsDue to the vast importance this species has on our Pennsylvania waterways, the protection of mussels is of the utmost importance. Seventy-five percent of mussels in Pennsylvania are currently considered to be species of greatest conservation need, 11 of which are listed as state or federally endangered or threatened. 

DEP biologists recently spent a week surveying the mussel population in Crawford County, PA. The sampling took place as a result of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit renewal. The NPDES permit addresses water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States. The DEP team, led by Aquatic Biologist Supervisor Joseph Brancato, observed the presence of and habitat for threatened and endangered mussel species and any impacts that the permitted discharge may be having on mussels.

DEP Intern Jaime WolfeIn addition to freshwater mussels being evaluated, benthic macroinvertebrates (which are excellent indicators of water quality) and other water quality parameters from the discharge were evaluated, including the placement of continuous instream water quality monitors to measure pH, specific conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.

“French Creek contains one of the most diverse and abundant freshwater mussel populations in the northeastern United States and has one of the most abundant populations of some species, including threatened and endangered species, of freshwater mussels in the world,” said Brancato.  “This survey will increase our knowledge, or dataset, of species abundance and diversity of French Creek.”   

DEP biologists collect mussel dataPreliminary findings of the survey suggest that the freshwater mussel population in French Creek upstream and downstream of the permitted location’s outfall are extremely diverse and abundant.  The survey found at least three species of federally and state endangered species and one additional species that is considered federally and state threatened.  Also, several species of concern were found during the survey.   

DEP is dedicated to continuing these vital surveys throughout the commonwealth to ensure the mussels in our state continue to thrive and protect our waterways.

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