Imperiled Central Texas mussels bring conservation focus to the San Saba River

Miles down an easy-to-miss dirt road just outside San Saba, Texas, a group of university, non-profit, state and federal researchers has converged on a remote stretch of the San Saba River. A biologist walking along the bank points out empty freshwater mussel shells with quirky names – pimpleback, pistolgrip, papershell – casualties of stranding during a time when the water ran too low. Pointing just a few yards downstream, he indicates a spot where one of their populations washed away completely during a time when the river ran too high.

He finds a few live mussels still hanging on just at the edge of the waterline, but this spot (like many on the river) is prone to extreme high and low flow events, leaving many of the mussel species that call it home in peril. Those who study Texas’ freshwater mussels worry these population impacts could be worsened in the future by climate change that is predicted to be severe in Central Texas.

Read more from Aubry Buzek with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service here.