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Center for Biological Diversity:
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Southeast Freshwater Extinction Crisis 

AL.com, September 26, 2013

Two imperiled freshwater mussels native to Tennessee River basin win federal protection
By Steve Doyle

NASHVILLE, Tennessee - Two imperiled freshwater mussel species native to the Tennessee River watershed are now protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity announced Wednesday that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has finalized a plan to protect the slabside pearlymussel and fluted kidneyshell. The plan emcompasses 1,380 river miles of critical mussel habitat in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and Virginia.

The slabside pearlymussel and fluted kidneyshell were identified as being in need of federal protection in 1984 and 1999, respectively.

The Center for Biological Diversity says both mussels are threatened by dams, gravel mining, urban and agricultural runoff, and pollution from coal mining and processing.

"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," Tierra Curry, a biologist at the center, said in a news release. "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 fluted kidneyshell has already vanished from Alabama, the release said, and survives in just 12 streams in the Tennessee River watershed. The slabside pearlymussel is even rarer, found in no more than 11 streams in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Virginia.

According to the center, 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. Fish cannot see the mussel's lure in dirty water, so the mussel cannot reproduce.

Freshwater mussels can live for centuries in clean water.

In 2011, the Fish & Wildlife Service reached a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity to fast-track protection decisions for 757 imperiled animals and plants across the United States, including 63 freshwater mussel species.

© 2013 Alabama Media Group.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton