Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Thursday, December 14, 2000

Threatened FW Gastropods of the Southeast

I'm just back from a three day meeting sponsored by The Nature Conservancy on endangered aquatic animals of the piedmont and southeastern coastal plain. The region of interest for this particular meeting was very tightly defined, but a bit weird - Atlantic drainages from the Potomac to the Ocmulgee-Altamaha, plus the upper half of a couple Gulf drainages (Flint, Chattahoochee, Tallapoosa).

TNC had received prior info from the Natural Heritage and nongame offices of the various states, so they started with a pretty good working list. Their list was mostly vertebrates and mussels, as you might expect, with a fair number of crustaceans & insects and a few snails.

Basically, TNC just wants to know where rare and threatened aquatic organisms are currently living. They want the most recent data available on whether these populations are large or small, threatened or safe. They specifically listed two planorbids, two hydrobiids, and a pleurocerid:
Based on Burch and my sketchy recollections, I suggested six additional hydrobiids from Georgia and the single Mobile Basin pleurocerid inhabiting the coverage area:
I have contacted Bill Adams, who sent me the most recent info on H. magnifica. (Thanks, Bill!) Charles Watson has also kindly sent me his manuscript on the Georgia hydrobiids, soon to appear in the FMCS Proceedings. Charles mentioned one additional Georgia hydrobiid that I'd neglected: Somatogyrus rheophilus (Thanks, Charles!)

I would be curious to know if any of you other members of the FWGNA group might have additional information on the distribution & status of these 13 species. And more broadly, I'd be interested to hear whatever thoughts you all might offer regarding other endangered freshwater gastropods from the southeastern Piedmont & Coastal Plain.

P.S. - Tomorrow is the early registration deadline for the March FMCS meeting in Pittsburgh! Don't forget: http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/fieldops/sw/tom/fmcs.html

Monday, November 6, 2000

FWGNA Phase I NSF Proposal

To the FWGNA group,

I'm happy to report that last Friday (Nov. 3) we resubmitted our "Phase I" proposal to the NSF Biotic Surveys and Inventories program. This year's version of the proposal directly involves 12 senior investigators: R.T. Dillon, K. M. Brown, R. Hershler, R. F. McMahon, D. L. Strayer, E. H. Jokinen, S. A. Ahlstedt, P. D. Johnson, R. Bieler, J-M. Gagnon, R. P. Guralnick, and G. T. Watters. The primary goal of Phase I remains the construction of a publicly-accessible database unifying all the freshwater gastropod collections held by North American museums. In addition, we have requested funds to bring taxon working groups to Washington, for the purpose of assembling a national reference collection of freshwater gastropods. The three-year budget totals approximately $925k.

I've appended the project summary below. The acronym "LTLSI" stands for "Long-term Large-scale Inventory."

We don't expect to hear from the NSF regarding a funding decision until March. In the mean time, I'll keep you all posted as usual!


--------[ begin NSF Project Summary]--------

LTLSI: The Freshwater Gastropods of North America, Phase I

The freshwater snails north of Mexico are a diverse fauna comprising about 500 species in 15 families. They are the dominant primary consumers in many freshwater ecosystems, regulating community structure and biomass of periphyton and plants, and serving as a foundation for populations of predators such as ducks, trout, and other recreationally-important fish. They are useful environmental indicators, essential hosts for livestock parasites, and important model organisms for physiological, ecological, and evolutionary studies of great generality. Yet this fauna is endangered. Widespread impoundment, pollution, and channelization of our nation's rivers in the first half of the 20th century precipitated catastrophic extinctions. At least 38 freshwater snail species endemic to the Mobile Basin disappeared in the 1940's, and the decline continues to the present day due to pollution, siltation, and public works projects. The present U.S. Federal list of 17 threatened and endangered species and 13 candidate species vastly underestimates the scope of the problem. A modern survey is urgently required.

Here we propose a large-scale, collaborative inventory of the freshwater gastropods north of Mexico. This project, originated at the World Congress of Malacology in 1998, is an activity of the newly-formed Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society. It currently involves 91 participants, and an Editorial Committee of eight. Phase I, the subject of the present proposal, is a compilation of the freshwater gastropod records held in 10 major North American museums into an electronic database. This will involve the integration of a variety of currently existing database structures, and new data entry initiatives around the United States and Canada. The Editorial Committee, working with taxon specialists, will estimate error rates and provide quality control of museum records. The unified database, representing almost 90% of the catalogued lots held by North American museums, will be made available via the World Wide Web, searchable by standard query. A pilot demonstration may be viewed on line, at: [link removed]

Phase II will involve original field surveys. The unified database developed in Phase I will be sorted regionally, and geographic gaps and weaknesses assessed. The Editorial Committee will then develop and implement a plan to survey those regions which may not have been explored in recent years, or may hold species whose conservation status is of special concern. Maps will be prepared showing both the current and historical distribution of each species. Phase III of the FWGNA project will involve the preparation of individual species accounts. The continental database will be sorted taxonomically and allocated to Taxon Working Groups. Species determinations will be reviewed and new taxonomic research programs, using both traditional and molecular techniques, will be designed as needed.

Both traditional (paper volume) and web-based information products will be produced, allowing biologists of diverse background to identify all elements of the North American freshwater gastropod fauna. A complete and current reference to the systematics, ecology, general biology, and conservation status of this important and threatened element of our fauna will result.

-------[end NSF Project Summary]----------

Thursday, September 28, 2000

Unified Museum Database Project

To the FWGNA Group,

I am pleased to report that our Unified Museum Database Project now has an on-line demonstration. Point your browsers to: [link removed]

As many of you are aware, over the last several months the Editorial Committee has been hard at work on a resubmission of our proposal to the NSF Biotic Surveys and Inventories program. Phase I calls for the construction of a publicly-accessible database unifying all the freshwater gastropod collections held by North American museums. So late last spring I requested example databases from a variety of sources, in order to develop a proof-of-concept.

I have been fortunate to enlist the help of two excellent programmers, George Pothering of the College of Charleston Computer Science Department and Josh Starmer of the Information Technology Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina.

We received databases from 12 sources, 7 of which are united in the demonstration search engine at the address above. These are the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Delaware Museum of Natural History, Field Museum of Natural History, Florida Museum of Natural History, Milwaukee Public Museum, the North Carolina Department of Fish & Game, and the University of Alaska Museum. To these we added an eighth database containing original data in FWGNA standard format. Work on 5 additional databases is ongoing.

This is a demonstration, developed to test our ability to integrate databases supplied by various institutions (in their own preferred formats) into a combined resource. It is not really useful for anything as yet. The data themselves are an odd mixture of small snippets from miscellaneous gastropod collections, not all freshwater and not all North American. Mapping of some data fields is incomplete. But we do hope that the power and promise of this approach will be evident to all.

We thank R. Bieler, J. Jones, L. Skibinski, T. Pearce, J. Jass, P. Morris, G. Rosenberg, P. Johnson, G. Pond, J. Glover, D. Smith, N. Foster, B. Watson, and J. Lee.

Let me know what you think!
Take care,

Thursday, September 14, 2000

FMCS Pittsburgh 2001

To the FWGNA group:

Those of you with paid-up memberships in the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society should have received, in the last couple weeks, Ellipsaria 2(2). Featured within the information-packed pages of that worthy periodical was the announcement of our next meeting, March 12 - 14 in Pittsburgh.

The meeting is being hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Tom Proch (tproch@stargate.net) is The Man and the DoubleTree Hotel downtown is The Plan. Information on the program, travel, accommodations, a registration form, and a first call for papers may be obtained at:


The FWGNA project will be a primary item on the agenda of the FMCS Committee on the Status & Distribution of Gastropods in Pittsburgh. Everybody on this list is invited to attend and offer input.

See you there!

P.S. - If you are not currently a member of the FMCS, you're missing out! Go directly to: http://www.sari.org/FMCS_General_Information.htm

Then download & mail: http://www.sari.org/FMCS_Membership_Form.htm

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Chop Off A Chunk?

To the FWGNA Group:

I thought I might share the news that one of our colleagues seems to be enjoying success with his survey of the freshwater gastropods of Mississippi, a poorly-known state much in need of attention.

Doug Shelton (Alabama Malacological Research Center) was among our first volunteers for the FWGNA project. He wrote me (8/98) "I would welcome the opportunity to participate in your project at any level where I might be useful." At the time of the Chattanooga meeting (3/99), he indicated that he was working on several proposals to survey the freshwater mollusk faunas of southern states.

I was (of course) most pleased to write a letter of support for his proposal to the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Department on 12/99. And in January of this year Doug was awarded a modest (and renewable!) grant. He wrote me (6/29):

Dr. Dillon,

I just want to let you know that I have begun the survey work for freshwater gastropods in the state of Mississippi. The field work is going well. It is exciting to do some real pioneer work here. So far, it is the Viviparids that appear to be the most common. They are abundant by the thousands at sitesI have visited, while the Planorbids and others gastropods are represented by just a few individuals.

Thanks for your support!
Doug Shelton

Doug will be following the FWGNA data format, depositing vouchers in museums, and in general doing everything right. I am personally inspired by his attitude. The freshwater gastropods of North America project might sometimes seem to be an overwhelming task, but it can be divided into many pieces of a much more manageable size. If any of you wants to chop yourself off a chunk, let me know how I can help!


P.S. - Join me in welcoming new members Andy Turner (Clarion College), Greg Pond (Kentucky Division of Water), Saxon Sharpe (Desert Research Institute), Isabelle Picard (a student at the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec), and Jay Cordeiro (American Museum of Natural History). Such a diversity of backgrounds! Our roster now stands at 90.

Thursday, April 27, 2000

Good News / Bad News

To the FWGNA project,

Good news: Over the last couple months our group has grown by nine members. Join me in welcoming Jim Alexander, Peter Badra, Jayne Brim-Box, Leslie Colley, Steve Duke, John Kent, Scott Martin, Larry Master, and Melissa Morrison. The FWGNA roster now stands at 84.

Bad news: Our NSF proposal was not funded. This is unsurprising - very few proposals are funded at their first submission. I haven't received the reviewer's comments as yet, but I can pretty much predict what they'll say. What's needed is a proof of concept.

In the next few weeks I'm going to try to find some space on a server, together with the software and technical expertise to patch together some sort of freshwater-gastropod-database-on-a-shoestring. The NSF Biotic Surveys & Inventories program only reviews proposals once each year, so we've got plenty of time to prepare for the next round.

In the mean time, I continue to welcome any thoughts and suggestions you all may have about funding, or indeed about any aspect of the project. We are moving forward, regardless.

Keep in touch,

Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Black Carp

Many of you may already be aware of plans to ease regulations for the importation of (fertile) Black Carp for snail control in Mississippi Catfish ponds. All of us interested in the conservation of our native freshwater molluscan fauna ought to be very concerned about this. Last week Leigh Ann McDougal emailed me with the very reasonable suggestion that we might wish to send a letter of protest.

In fact, I am happy to report that Al Buchanan, President of the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society, has recently sent a very forceful letter on behalf of us all. Here's the text:

----[begin FMCS letter]----------
January 5, 2000
Lester Spell, Jr., Commissioner
Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce
121 North Jefferson Street
Jackson, MS 39201

Dear Commissioner Spell:

The Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society (FMCS), created in March, 1999, is comprised of malacologists from throughout North America. The FMCS's primary objective is to promote scientific conservation and management of freshwater mollusks, the most imperiled fauna in North America. Society members include mollusk experts from academia, state and federal natural resource agencies, non-governmental organizations, private consultants, the commercial shelling industry, and people from various occupations who have an interest in protection and management of mollusks.

Freshwater mollusks in North America are in jeopardy. During the past century we have lost 35 of the 300 species of freshwater mussels and 42 of the 500 species of freshwater snails native to North America. Additionally, 63 species of freshwater mussels and 144 species of freshwater snails are currently on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service candidate list. Still more are in decline. The decline in freshwater mollusks has occurred because of widespread changes in stream habitats in North America, including water pollution, channel alteration, dam construction, and introduction of exotic species.

The FMCS is concerned about the invasion of North American waters by black carp. Adult black carp feed almost exclusively on mollusks and for some molluscan species could be the "final nail in the coffin". Experience with past introductions of exotic species suggests that dissemination of black carp into a variety of commercial culture facilities will result in the introduction and establishment of this species in U.S. waters. Similar "experiments" with grass carp, silver carp, bighead carp, and other species has resulted in the release, establishment, and widespread proliferation of these species in North America, resulting in significant impacts to native fauna and their habitats. While black carp may be capable of controlling gastropods in small impoundments, native species such as the redear sunfish are as well or better suited to serve the same function.

The conservation status of freshwater mollusks alone should urge you to reconsider your decision to allow the proliferation of black carp into additional commercial hatcheries and production facilities in Mississippi. However, you may also consider the impacts black carp may have on large commercial mussel shelling industries in neighboring states such as Tennessee and Alabama, imperiled species recovery programs in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and other states, and region-wide mollusk recovery programs coordinated and sponsored by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Exotic species introductions are one of the most serious natural resource issues faced in the United States today. Introduction of exotic species is costing the U.S. taxpayer billions of dollars a year (the zebra mussel alone costs $3 billion a year to heavy industry (Science 1990)). At a time when fisheries professionals are rethinking not only introductions of new species but transfers of genetic stocks between waters, allowing the dispersal of a species with known potential for impacts on native faunas is ill-advised.

Therefore, the FMCS, for the above reasons and others, urges you to reconsider your decision to allow the introduction of black carp in Mississippi. If the FMCS can assist you in finding another biological control solution for eliminating the unwanted snails in your catfish production ponds, we are ready and willing to help. If you have any questions about the FMCS or this issue, please contact me (573/882-9880, Ext. 3257). Thank you.

Alan C. Buchanan, President
Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society
C: Governor Kirk Fordice
------[end FMCS Letter]--------------

Public pressure seems to be having some effect. On 1/10, Al reported:

A bit of kudos for us. Today I saw a letter from the Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture (who is also Chairman of the Missouri Aquaculture Coordinating Council) to Commissioner Spell questioning the wisdom of allowing the proliferation of black carp, so its not just natural resource agency folks who are concerned. Have fun out there.

If any of you on this list have further info on the Black Carp issue, please feel free to share with the group. I'll try to keep us posted.