One part of the Conservancy’s approach is to acquire properties or enter into conservation easement agreements in the name of protecting ecologically valuable lands and waters. In the case of the seventy-eight acre West Tract, located along the Green River, the Conservancy sought to know more about the property’s biodiversity – especially the mussel populations – before signing on the dotted line. This meant making a call to Monte McGregor, PhD, an Aquatic Scientist/Malacologist with Kentucky’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
“Monte is a great resource to our program’s efforts on the Green and other rivers in Kentucky,” says Jeff Sole, Director of Conservation Programs for The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky. “In this case, Monte and his crew came to the West Tract and surveyed a mussel bed associated with the property’s river frontage.”
McGregor’s survey revealed 28 mussel species in the bed, including one federally-endangered species and at least 3-4 other globally imperiled species. While remarkable, this wasn’t news to McGregor.
“The Green River harbors a diverse and significant array of mussels, more than half of the mussels found in the state and about 20 percent of what we have in the country,” says McGregor.
With a lifespan of up to 50 years, mussels spend most of their time in one spot, filtering bacteria and low levels of pollution from waters that flow around them. This also makes them vulnerable to chemicals, sediment and changes in temperature. As a result, freshwater mussels serve as strong indicators of water quality.
“The ongoing sampling and survey work Monte and his team conduct in places like the Green River provide some of the best data we get for monitoring how mussel populations respond to our work,” adds Sole. “We wouldn’t be able to accomplish our goals there without him.”