Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Twenty Years of FWGNA

Editor’s Note – This essay was subsequently published as: Dillon, R.T., Jr. (2023c)  Twenty Years of FWGNA.  Pp 1 – 7 in The Freshwater Gastropods of North America Volume 7, Collected in Turn One, and Other EssaysFWGNA Project, Charleston, SC.

The environmental movement has ever been riven with fad and fashion, wailing and rending our garments over the crisis of today, yesterday’s forgotten and gone.  Who among us remembers the Spotted Owl?  Who remembers the National Biological Survey?  I thought not.

Bill Clinton took office in January of 1993.  And high on the radar of his new Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, was the Spotted Owl controversy, pitting the big lumber interests of the Pacific Northwest against advocates for an endangered bird.  Secretary Babbitt embraced the idea of a “National Biological Survey” as a way to prevent, or at least manage, such problems in the future [1].  Presumably, if we could identify, count, and map every plant, animal, protozoan and algal cell in The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave, we could see this sort of problem coming.

First FWGNA flier, 1998
In retrospect, Sec. Babbitt’s idea was dead aborning [2].  Congress allocated no new funds for the agency, and the political climate turned hostile almost immediately, with the Republican landslide of November 1994.  Secretary Babbitt staffed his new National Biological Survey with existing personnel, robbed primarily from the Fish & Wildlife Service.  The agency was subsumed under the USGS as the “Biological Resources Division” in 1996 and ultimately disappeared [4].

But it was against this backdrop that the Freshwater Gastropods of North America Project was born.  To us, the time seemed ripe for a “long-term, collaborative effort to inventory and monograph all freshwater snails inhabiting the continent north of Mexico.”  And where better to inaugurate such an effort than in Washington, DC?  The first “interest group” meeting of the FWGNA Project was held July 29, 1998, on the campus of George Washington University, as the American Malacological Society hosted the first World Congress of Malacology.

The FWGNA Project was initially coordinated by a board of eight “Regional Editors”: Steve Ahlstedt, Ken Brown, Rob Dillon, Paul Johnson, Eileen Jokinen, Bob McMahon, Dave Strayer, and Shi-Kuei Wu, jointly submitting a proposal to the NSF Biotic Surveys and Inventories program in November of 1999.  That proposal was revised and resubmitted in the fall of 2000, minus Shi-Kuei Wu (who had retired), but adding Bob Hershler, Rudiger Bieler, Jean-Marc Gagnon, Rob Guralnick, and Tom Watters.  Phase 1 of our proposed FWGNA Project was designed as a survey of museum holdings, with field surveys to follow in Phase 2 and taxonomic revisions in Phase 3.  Alas, the project was not funded.

Meanwhile, completely separate and independent of all the FWGNA excitement, the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society was born.  I was invited to a board meeting in Chattanooga in November of 1998 to draft bylaws for the new organization and asked to serve as chairman pro tempore of the FMCS Committee on the Status & Distribution of Gastropods.  My formal election to that post occurred in March.

So that first meeting of the FMCS Gastropod Committee, held on March 19, 1999, was synonymous with the second meeting of the FWGNA Project.  And our third meeting was also synonymous with the FMCS Gastropod committee meeting of March 14, 2001, at Pittsburgh.  Discussion at both of those meetings was about evenly split between a continental survey of freshwater gastropods and a “national conservation strategy,” being spearheaded by Paul Johnson.  Dr. Johnson succeeded me as chair of the FMCS Gastropod Committee in 2003.

Meanwhile, I had been elected to the presidency of the American Malacological Society.  And the featured symposium at the 2002 AMS meeting in Charleston was “The Biology and Conservation of Freshwater Gastropods” [5], with a fourth meeting of the FWGNA Project following on the evening of August 4.

At our 2002 meeting the idea of a “new model” for the FWGNA Project was born.  The project was to be decentralized as much as possible, with regional or local surveys conducted, and local sources of funding sought.  The effort would be united by a single database, in a common format, held centrally.  But otherwise, efforts would proceed independently.

FWGNA Logo 1999 - 2004
I don’t remember when the idea of an FWGNA website first came up.  I began posting resources and archiving old email messages at cofc.edu/~dillonr in early 1999.  But our first regional website, with a photo gallery, dichotomous key, and 24 species pages featuring distribution maps and biological information, was the Freshwater Gastropods of South Carolina, which went online in February of 2004, coauthored by RTD and T. W. Stewart.

We migrated over to cofc.edu/~fwgna in September of 2006, adding an FWGNC site for the Atlantic drainages of North Carolina, with Stewart and B. T. Watson.  An FWGGA for the Atlantic drainages of Georgia (with Stewart and W. K. Reeves) followed in March of 2007.  Our FWGVA site for the Atlantic drainages of Virginia (with Stewart and Watson) was under construction as early as December of 2006 but did not formally open until June of 2008.  The format for all four of these regional sites was designed by Ms. Jasmine Wu, a college friend of my daughter’s with good technical skills and a fine eye.

In late 2009 we purchased the domain name fwgna.org and embarked on a significant design upgrade, spearheaded by my good buddy and long-suffering Web Wizard, Mr. Steve Bleezarde.  Steve also suggested that I migrate from emailing an ever-growing address book [6] monthly news bulletins to posting essays in a blog format.  The “Grand Opening” of the FWGNA Blog was on February 28, 2010.

Our FWGTN East Tennessee site (with Martin Kohl) went online in November of 2011, and our FWGMA Mid-Atlantic site (with M. J. Ashton and T. P. Smith) went up in October of 2013.

Through our first 18 years, as we were hosted by the College of Charleston, I suppose the best descriptor for the FWGNA would have been, “Lightly-funded Extramural Research Project.”  We did receive a few small grants, most notably from the U.S. National Park Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and Normandeau Associates.  But our income was always far, far below our expenditures.  I’d estimate that 95% of the work has been done for love, not money.

I was banned from the campus of the College of Charleston in 2016, forced into retirement, and sued [7].  That lawsuit was settled late last year [8].  And I have now used the proceeds therefrom to establish the FWGNA Project as a sole-proprietor consultancy.

So, what does the future hold?  When field conditions are good, we have been working in the Ohio River drainages of western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and eastern Illinois.  The big team of RTD, Kevin Cummings, Ryan Evans, Mark Pyron, Tom Watters, Will Reeves, Richard Kugblenu, Jeffrey Bailey and Michael Whitman have developed a database of 5,256 freshwater gastropod records at last count, comprising 68 species and subspecies.  A 2017 PowerPoint presentation describing last spring’s 4,746-record “interim report” is downloadable from the link below.  And a draft “Freshwater Gastropods of The Ohio” website should appear online before the year is out [9].

FWGO ppt from SFS 2017
When field conditions are inclement, as they have been all over The East for months now, we have been working on the first hardcopy publications of the FWGNA Project.  A four-volume set should hit the market in the next couple months, Good Lord willing, and the creeks do rise.  Volume I, by Dillon, Ashton, Reeves, Smith, Stewart & Watson will report the scientific results of our 12,211-record freshwater gastropod survey of the Atlantic drainages, from Georgia to the New York line.  Volumes II, III, and IV will collect, reorganize, edit and update a diverse assortment of approximately 100 essays that yours truly has emailed or posted on the FWGNA blog since 2006.  You won’t want to miss any of that.

I should conclude by re-emphasizing the collaborative foundation of the FWGNA Project.  I realize that our recent evolution into a sole-proprietorship makes it look as though I, your Coordinator, am somehow angling to become Your Boss.  I have fought that perception as hard as I can for 20 years, and will continue to resist it until we all, together, cover this great wide continent of ours, Sea to Shining Sea.

Science is The Boss of the FWGNA Project.  I do, however, have a series of polite suggestions for everybody, independently, today.  Please walk out your back door, stoop down into that first little puddle, and note the remarkable freshwater gastropod fauna crawling lazily on the grass blades.  Take good data, collect if you hear the call, walk 50 yards, stoop over again, and repeat.  If you work for an agency, start a program.  If you’re a research scientist, write a proposal.  You do not now, nor have you ever been called to, clear anything with anybody, most especially me.  But again, please,

Keep in touch!


[1] Regional biological surveys have been around since natural history became a science.  And ideas for National Biological Surveys in the U.S. and Canada were being discussed in academic circles as early as the 1970s, continuing to gain momentum in the 1980s.  For more, see:
Wagner, F. H. (1999) Whatever happened to the National Biological Survey?  Bioscience 49: 219 – 222.

[2] But you’ve got to love it.  Here’s a quote from Krahe [3]:
“The NBS would parallel the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in its mission of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating scientific data without any entanglement in the regulatory and managerial responsibilities of its sister agencies. ‘What we are doing is strengthening the credibility of science, Babbitt said, by putting some distance between federal scientists and those in government who make policy and execute it.”
[3] Krahe, D. (2012) The Ill-fated NBS: A historical analysis of Bruce Babbitt’s vision to overhaul Interior Science.  Pp 160 – 165  In: Weber, Samantha (ed.) Rethinking Protected Areas in a Changing World: Proceedings of the 2011 George Wright Society Biennial Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites. Hancock, Michigan: The George Wright Society.

[4] Quoting the USGS website verbatim: “2010 – A USGS realignment established the Ecosystems Mission Area, which comprised the Fisheries, Wildlife, Status and Trends, Environments and Invasive Species Programs and the Cooperative Research Units, all former programs of the BRD.”

[5] The proceedings of the AMS2002 freshwater gastropod symposium were published in the American Malacological Bulletin, Vol 19(1/2).

[6] I did not, however, abandon my email address book, which has 264 entries at present.  Any of my readership who might wish to be added are cordially invited to email DillonR@fwgna.org.

[7] For a good review, see the August 8, 2016 issue of Inside Higher Ed: “Who Decides What Must Be on a Syllabus?” [html]

[8] Here’s a rather sweet-natured update published in the Charleston Post & Courier 26Feb18.  With video!  See “Scientist who had falling-out with College works from home.”  [html]

[9] The FWGNA Project is looking for a colleague with GIS mapping skills.  Any volunteers?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Potamopyrgus in New Jersey

Last Wednesday I received an email from Mike Cole of Cole Ecological, forwarded by our good buddy Tim Pearce.  Attached to Mike’s message was the JPEG below, from samples taken in the Musconetcong River of northwestern New Jersey, a tributary of the Delaware.  This is the third introduction of the New Zealand Mud Snail, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, confirmed for US Atlantic drainages.
From Mike Cole 4July18

We reported Potamopyrgus in Spring Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna in central Pennsylvania, back in 2013, and the 2017 discovery in Maryland’s Gunpowder River just last month [1].  The Musconetcong, much like the Gunpowder and Spring Creek, is a lovely body of water, tumbling cold, clear and rich about 73 km through a surprisingly unspoiled valley.  Mike reports Potamopyrgus at five sites scattered along the lower 10 km of the river.

So NZMS were completely unknown in US Atlantic drainages until one day they popped up in the middle of Pennsylvania, and the next day they popped up in Maryland 50 km south, and the next day they popped up in New Jersey 200 km east.  What is going on here?

What the Musconetcong shares with Spring Creek and the Gunpowder River, in addition to NZMS introductions, is trout.  New Jersey Monthly counted the “mighty Musky” as “among the state’s most revered waterways, thanks to its ever-changing landscape and world-class fly-fishing [2].”  The river is stocked by NJ Fish & Wildlife biologists weekly in April and May, pretty much down its entire length.

My father and I used to enjoy a fair amount of trout fishing ourselves, when I was young.  Early in the spring… doggone that water was cold… we always wore hip boots.  And in fact, I’ve got at least two or three pair of boots hanging upside down in my storage room this morning.
My right boot toe

Almost all the hip boots and waders I’ve ever worn in my life had deep, heavy tread on the soles, into which mud was always caked.  But I never cleaned the soles of my boots… not in 50 years… never really thought about it.

We fishermen (and biologists) need to start thinking about it.  That mud in the soles of our boots has the potential to track a lot of hitch-hikers from one stream to the next.  And remember – Potamopyrgus are parthenogenic brooders.  There’s no such thing as “one.”  And there’s nothing to stop those critters from washing down into the Delaware River.  Darn it.


[1] Previous posts on Potamopyrgus:
  • Invaders Great and Small [19Sept08]
  • Potamopyrgus in US Atlantic drainages [19Nov13]
  • Invasive Species Updates [13June18]
[2] NJ Monthly, 19Mar14:
Gone Fishing: Musconetcong River [html]