UT Tyler Biology Department Faculty Awarded Nearly $70,000 to Study Endangered East Texas Species
Feb 20, 2013 | 1633 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The University of Texas at Tyler Department of Biology was awarded a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to examine mussels in East Texas rivers, Dr. Michael Odell, associate vice president for sponsored research and director of federal relations, announced.

The $69,113 Endangered Species Section 6 Grant was awarded to four biology faculty. They will assist TPWD, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to identify fish hosts for East Texas freshwater mussels in the Neches, Sabine and Sulphur Rivers using genetic and ecological niche modeling methods.

Dr. John Placyk, assistant professor of biology, serves as principal investigator on the three-year project. Co-investigators are Dr. Neil Ford, professor of biology; Dr. Lance Williams, associate professor; Dr. Josh Banta, assistant professor and Marsha Williams, research associate.

“Freshwater mussels have a very interesting life cycle. When they are born, they must live and feed off of a fish’s gills before they can live on their own. Different mussel species rely on different fish hosts for their young, known as glochidia, but we do not know which fish are important for which mussel species,” said Banta, whose research areas include genetic and ecological mapping. “We are using DNA ‘fingerprints’ of the different mussels to be able to determine which species are on which fish. We will then use this information to predict where different mussel species are found based on where their fish hosts are found. This work will improve the predictions of where particular mussel species are, which is important to land managers and conservation agencies.”

Section 6 grants are funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for states to gain information about their endangered species.

“Mussels are very important to us because they literally clean pollutants out of our rivers. Many of these species are federally listed as threatened or endangered because they are very rare; their habitats are declining. The state and federal government are very interested in understanding why this is happening and what can be done to protect these species,” Banta added.

A UT Tyler faculty member since 2007, Placyk holds a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville and a master of science in biology from Northern Michigan University. During his tenure at UT Tyler, Placyk already has received research grants totaling about $150,000. He also serves as a UT System Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation faculty mentor at UT Tyler.

Banta’s research focuses on the mechanisms of variation in the wild, using techniques such as genetic mapping, quantitative genetics and ecological niche modeling. He has been a faculty member since 2011.

Ford’s research expertise is in life-history evolution. He has been conducting mussel surveys in East Texas for more than 10 years.

Marsha Williams will oversee the project’s computer modeling components. She is an expert in river geomorphology and Geographic Information System applications. Prior to serving UT Tyler, she worked for the Mississippi Extension Service and served as a researcher for Ohio State University. Lance Williams’ research expertise is in aquatic ecology.

For more information, contact Placyk, 903.566.7147 or jplacyk@uttyler.edu; or Banta, 903.565.5655 or jbanta@uttyler.edu.

One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of almost 7,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.
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