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January 23, 2013

Research & Collections

by Meg Lowman

It’s the biggest conservation crisis that no one talks about.
—Paul Johnson, director, Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center

What group of species is more common in North America than anywhere else?

Freshwater mussels. But this unique group of organisms rarely reaches the headlines or even reaches the center of discussion in school biology classes. Even more amazing is the fact that, of the 297 species found on our continent, two-thirds are concentrated in the Southeastern United States because of the region’s unique geology and relatively stable environment over the past 60 million years. Mussels provided an important food source for Native Americans, fostered the button industry in the 1800s, and constitute an essential part of freshwater food chains.

Mussels operate as filter feeders, removing bacteria and algae from water, which ultimately contributes to water quality. Of the 10 to 700 animals found in one square meter of stream…

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