Monitoring the mussels of the Kishwaukee River

Mussels are often referred to as “the livers of the rivers” because they filter materials from their environment. Freshwater mussels are also among the most imperiled groups of organisms in the world.


The Kishwaukee River basin in northern Illinois remains one of the most mussel-rich resources in the state. In 2012, the Urban Biotic Assessment Program (UBAP) began studying the fishes, reptiles, amphibians, and mollusks of the Kishwaukee River along the Illinois Tollway I-90 overpass. In 2015 UBAP began a longterm monitoring program of the mussel population at the site. Each August, a team of researchers from INHS, IDNR, and local land management agencies descends on the same location and intensively samples the mussels in the area over the course of a week.

We arrived at the site around 8:30 and began unloading and setting up all of the gear needed for the day. A group of 20 biologists and land managers eagerly grabbed sampling bags, donned wetsuits, waders, snorkels and masks and each claimed their 10m stretch of the river.

When given the signal, we plunged our heads into the swift moving, 70F water to begin locating every mussel we could in our stretches of river and placing them in mesh bags attached to our waists. Much musseling is done by grubbing – shoving ones hands into the sediment and feeling around for mussels, which feel a bit like smooth rocks that hold on in the gravel with a fleshy foot. For some in the group, this was their first time musseling, and finding their first mussels was exhilarating.

After 30 minutes of sampling, we brought our bags of mussels back to the base station. Here, under the bridge with its constant rumble of vehicles speeding by, numbered tags were glued to each mussel. Some of the mussels also had a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag glued to their shell, which will enable them to be detected in the future without being removed from the river. Malacologists identified, measured, sexed, and aged each mussel before putting it back in its bag to be returned to its place in the river.

We continued these sampling sessions until the entire project area had been sampled. Over the lifetime of this project, thousands of mussels will be marked and measured. Many of the mussels we encountered had been marked in previous years, which will enable the scientists to document growth and survival over time as well as movement within the river.

As we left the site on the last day, we all looked forward to returning next year and hopefully finding those mussels and many new ones.

UBAP staff presents at Ecological Society of America

UBAP Ornithologist Anastasia Rahlin presented a poster at the Ecological Society of America conference held in Portland, Oregon from August 6th-11th. The poster reported on the environmental DNA research being conducted in collaboration with Mark Davis and Matthew Niemiller to collect presence-absence data on cryptic rails in Northern Illinois. The project is testing environmental DNA for bird detection and comparing it to traditional playback surveys.

Rahlin, A.A., M.A. Niemiller, and M.A. Davis. Using environmental DNA sampling methods to determine cryptic wetland bird occupancy in Illinois.

 

View poster

UBAP staff mentor intern from the National Great Rivers Research & Education Center (NGRREC) 2017 Intern Program

Members of the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Urban Biotic Assessment Program hosted and advised an intern from the National Great Rivers Research & Education Center (NGRREC) 2017 Intern Program this summer. The intern worked on mapping the spread, determining geometric morphometrics, and genetics of a novel invasive species in the Corbicula genus. They attended the 2017 Annual NGRREC Intern Symposium from 31 July to 1 August 2017.

Presentations:

Reasor, E., S.A. Douglass, J.S. Tiemann, and M.A. Davis. Alien Invaders: Assessing the spread, genetics, and shape of a novel invasive clam.

Posters:

Reasor, E., S.A. Douglass, J.S. Tiemann, and M.A. Davis. Alien Invaders: Assessing the spread, genetics, and shape of a novel invasive clam.

 

UBAP ecologist accepts position at University of Alabama, Huntsville

UBAP ecologist Matthew Niemiller accepted a faculty position at the University of Alabama, Huntsville where he will return to his research in cave biology. Matt received his M.S. in Biology from Middle Tennessee State University and a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville dissertation topic “Evolution, Speciation, and Conservation of Amblyopsid Cavefishes.” While with UBAP, Matt was responsible for accoustic monitoring of bats in the Chicagoland area. We wish him well and look forward to continued collaboration.

Follow his research here:

http://www.speleobiology.com/cavebiolab/

Most mussels survive relocation

In a three-year study, aquatic ecologist Jeremy Tiemann and colleagues at the Illinois Natural History Survey, a division of PRI, relocated 100 mussels upriver during a reconstruction project on the Interstate 90 bridge over the Kishwaukee River in northern Illinois. “Our data suggest that short-distance relocation is a viable tool for mussel conservation,” Tiemann said.

Read complete news release from Prairie Research Institute

Read the paper published in Freshwater Mollusk Biology and Conservation.

 

UBAP herpetologist accepts position with Texas Parks and Wildlife

UBAP herpetologist Jonathan Warner accepted the position of Alligator Program Leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. An Illinois native, Jon conducted his Master’s research on Gaboon Vipers and his PhD on Nile crocodiles at the School of Animal, Plant, and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa before joining the UBAP team. We wish him well and look forward to continued collaboration.