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Six Mile Dam Removal eDNA Native Freshwater Mussel Assessment

Assessing the ability of environmental DNA to detect the presence of rare, threatened, and endangered freshwater mussels

  • 12K

    Mussels Rescued

  • 742

    Rabbitsfoot Rescued

  • 127

    Sheepnose Rescued

  • Warsaw, Ohio

    Warsaw, Ohio

Rescuing thousands of mussels provided us the opportunity to potentially advance conservation biology using environmental DNA

In the summer of 2020, a river restoration project removed Six Mile Dam on the Walhonding River which supports one of the richest mussel faunas in Ohio. When impoundment levels were lowered as part of the dam removal, freshwater mussels were stranded at the surface or entrapped within the substrate. 

As part of ongoing engineering design and regulatory compliance activities, we conducted a freshwater mussel rescue. More than 12,000 mussels—including 742 federally threatened Rabbitsfoot and 127 federally endangered Sheepnose—were rescued. Search efficiencies were very high, and removal of the dam provided an ideal opportunity to test eDNA as a technology for detecting rare mussels. Using research funds provided by the Ohio Department of Transportation, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service contracted our team to research the use of eDNA to detect freshwater mussels. We collected water samples at the downstream end of 22 search cells using a peristaltic pump and tissue from several species without readily available genetic sequences.

A metabarcoding approach will be used to compare the results of the mussel rescue to the genetic material collected in the water samples. This ground truthing will assess the efficacy of eDNA sampling techniques to predict mussel community composition, especially rare and protected species.

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