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For Immediate Release, September 25, 2013

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Two Tennessee River Mussels Protected Under Endangered Species Act

Nearly 1,400 River Miles Protected in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized Endangered Species Act protection today for two species of freshwater mussels in the Tennessee River watershed, including 1,380 river miles of critical habitat in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia. The decisions to protect the slabside pearlymussel and fluted kidneyshell result from a 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity requiring the agency to fast-track protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals around the country.

Slabsite pearlymussel
Slabside pearlymussel photo by Brett Ostby, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

“More kinds of mussels are found in the Southeast than anywhere else in the entire world, but pollution and dams have driven many of them to extinction,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection for the fluted kidneyshell and slabside pearlymussel will ensure that these beautiful mollusks aren’t erased from the Southeast’s special natural heritage.”

The slabside pearlymussel was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1984. The fluted kidneyshell has been waiting for federal protection since 1999.

The slabside pearlymussel was once found in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia; it has been lost from Kentucky and survives in no more than 11 streams in the Tennessee River watershed in the other four states. It is no longer found in nearly 70 percent of its native streams: All remaining populations are in decline, and several are on the verge of being lost.

The fluted kidneyshell was once found in the Cumberland and Tennessee river watersheds in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. It has been extirpated from Alabama and now occurs in only 12 of 37 of the streams where it was once found.

Both mussels are threatened by dams, gravel mining, urban and agricultural runoff and pollution from coal mining and processing.
In 2011 the Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service reached a settlement to speed protections for all the species on the candidate waiting list as of 2010 and for a host of other species that had been petitioned for protection.

The slabside pearlymussel is 4 inches long with a shiny, greenish-yellow, triangular shell that is white on the inside; the fluted kidneyshell is 5 inches long, has a yellowish-brown oval shell with wide green rays, and inside is bluish-white with a streak of pink.

Native freshwater mussels are indicators of high water quality because they require clean, free-flowing rivers to survive and reproduce. Once widely used to make buttons and jewelry, mussel shells, like trees, accumulate growth rings that can be used to determine their age. Freshwater mussels can live for centuries, making them among the longest-lived invertebrates.

Mussels contribute to water quality by filtering small particles from the water when they eat. They reproduce by making a lure that looks like a young fish; when larger fish attempt to prey upon the lure, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. Juvenile mussels develop as parasites on the gills before dropping off to begin life on their own. In dirty water, the fish cannot see the mussel’s lure, so the mussel cannot reproduce.

“Protecting habitat for freshwater mussels will also protect water quality people need for drinking, fishing and recreation,” said Curry.

The fluted kidneyshell’s scientific name is Ptychobranchus subtentum and the slabside pearlymussel’s is Pleuronaia dolabelloides.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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