The Most Important Animals You May Never Notice

When you peer through the surface of your local stream, you may not notice the mussels burrowed in the rocks.  These aquatic workhorses are key to keeping our streams and waterways clean.

fanshell mussel
The fanshell is one of about 300 species of mussels found in the fresh waters of North America. They also are listed as an endangered species.
North America hosts the most diverse freshwater mussel fauna on Earth, with approximately 300 species representing 36% of the total global mussel diversity.  However, mussels are the most imperiled group of animals in North America!

Mussels and healthy streams

Mussels are an important food source for aquatic and terrestrial animals.  Mussels improve water quality by filtering out contaminants, sediments, and excess nutrients from our rivers and streams.  Perhaps most importantly, mussels are the aquatic “canary in the coalmine,” functioning as environmental indicators.  They are sensitive to climate change and toxic chemicals and serve as early warning systems that can alert us to water quality problems.  Conversely, high diversity mussel populations indicate a healthy stream for all species in that ecosystem.

pink mucket mussel
The rare pink mucket mussel is one of 17 threatened and endangered species found in Kentucky’s Green River. Researchers have only observed a few in the last 10 years.

Making a difference for an overlooked native species

Through some unique partnerships, Kentucky Waterways Alliance has been working on mussel analysis, research, conservation, propagation, augmentation, and enhancement of native species.  We have helped map mussels across the region, find mussels in areas they were thought to be extinct, and work to advance groundbreaking science in mussel propagation.  Continued efforts will ensure that these often overlooked species will be around for future generations of humans and wildlife, serving their critically important function in the web of life.

boy with mussel
Boy with mussel. Photo credit: Monte McGregor
The Kentucky Waterways Alliance is working hard to protect North America’s rich mussel diversity.  We invite all friends of wildlife to come out to BBQ, Bourbon, & Blues, a great opportunity to have fun while supporting our efforts on Friday October 10, 2014 in Louisville, KY.  National Wildlife Foundation CEO and President Colin O’Mara will be in attendance to help us celebrate 21 years of work fighting for clean water in Kentucky.

Learn more about the October 10th Kentucky Waterways Alliance event in Louisville, KY and purchase your tickets here.


About the Author

will-willis-KWA headshotWill Willis became the Communications Director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance after attaining his Masters in Environmental Public Health from the University of Louisville.  He uses his experience with environmental policy, statewide research, and client management to improve community vitality and promote cultures of wellness.