WASHINGTON (CN) – Endangered Species Act protections have been finalized for two freshwater mussels, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife action. The listings of the Neosho mucket mussel as an endangered species and the rabbitsfoot mussel as a threatened species are part of a 2011 court-approved settlement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) that resulted in a five-year workplan to speed listings for hundreds of species across the country, according to the CBD’s press release.
The Neosho mucket, a four-inch round mussel found in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, has lost 62 percent of its historic range with only nine of 16 historic populations still in existence. The rabbitsfoot, a six-inch long rectangular mussel found in 13 states, has lost 64 percent of its historic range, and only 11 of the existing 51 populations are viable, the agency noted in its statement.
“The Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot mussels live on the bottom of streams and rivers and have suffered drastic declines because of water pollution and dams. Mussels reproduce by making a lure that looks like a young fish; when larger fish try to prey on the lure, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. In dirty water the fish cannot see the mussel’s lure, so the mussel can’t reproduce,” the CBD said.
Although the USFWS noted that industrial, agricultural, municipal and mining contaminants have harmful effects on the mussels, especially in early life stages, it is the combination of impoundments, channelization, sedimentation, chemical contaminants, mining, and oil and natural gas development that present ongoing threats that are expected to continue into the future, according to the action.
“Historical population losses due to impoundments have probably contributed more to the decline and range reductions of the Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot than any other single factor,” the agency said.
Climate change is expected to worsen the mussels’ plight. “As temperature increases due to climate change throughout the range of Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot, both species may experience population declines as warmer rivers are more suitable for thermally tolerant species,” the action stated.
In the final version of the rule, the USFWS has made changes and clarified information from the proposed action based on public comments and meetings, but did not change the proposed listing status for either mussel.
The Neosho musket was determined to be in current danger of extinction throughout its entire range due to its one remaining viable population. Because the rabbitsfoot has 11 viable populations, the agency determined that it is not currently in danger of extinction though it is likely to be in the foreseeable future, the action noted.
“Saving these two mussels will mean cleaning up rivers that we all need for drinking, fishing and swimming,” Noah Greenwald, the CBD’s endangered species director was quoted as saying in the group’s press release.
The proposed 2,138 miles of critical habitat will be finalized at a later time, the agency said.
The final action is effective Oct. 17.
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