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Biologists say Ohio’s rare mussels would benefit from endangered status

Pleurobema rubrum, pyramid pigtoe, photo by Matthew Patterson/USFWS
Matthew Patterson/USFWS/Matthew Patterson/USFWS
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Matthew Patterson/USFWS
Pleurobema rubrum, pyramid pigtoe, photo by Matthew Patterson/USFWS

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has sued the federal government to get full endangered species status for two rare Ohio freshwater mussels this summer — the pyramid pigtoe (Pleurobema rubrum) and salamander (Simpsonaias ambigua). Data shows that both species have been found in fewer and fewer waterways in Ohio in the past fifty years.

Freshwater mussels are bioindicators, according to Biologist Tierra Curry with the CBD.

“They're kind of the canary in the coal mine for the health of rivers. They're very sensitive to pollution,” Curry said. “We get our drinking water from rivers, we fish from rivers, we swim in them, we boat on them. So it's really important to do everything we can to protect them.”

She said freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of animals in North America yet only thirty percent of them are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Michael Hogarth, a professor at Otterbein University, has studied mussels in Ohio for decades. Hogarth said in an interview with WYSO that federal endangered status for mussels like the pyramid pigtoe and salamander brings attention to the species and helps biologists like him acquire essential research funding.

“We can take a species that is rare and then create the conditions where we can repopulate that community of mussels,” Hogarth said.

Hogarth cited the revitalization of purple cat’s paw pearlymussels (Epioblasma obliquata) in the Ohio River as an example of a successful local captive propagation program.

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Chris Welter is the Managing Editor at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Chris got his start in radio in 2017 when he completed a six-month training at the Center for Community Voices. Most recently, he worked as a substitute host and the Environment Reporter at WYSO.