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UT Tyler Awarded Grant to Enhance Freshwater Mussel Conservation Efforts in Louisiana

DR. NEIL FORD

TYLER (April 3, 2024) – The University of Texas at Tyler received nearly $114,000 from the  Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, State Wildlife Grant Program and U.S. Fish and  Wildlife Service to enhance freshwater mussel conservation in Louisiana. Dr. Neil Ford, UT Tyler  professor emeritus of biology, serves as principal investigator on the two-year research project. 

Ford will lead a Houston-based environmental team that works extensively with freshwater  mussels. This research will provide an update on the distribution, abundance and diversity of  freshwater mussels in the Ouachita and Tensas River Basins, and assist with the identification and  monitoring of mussel hot spots in Bayou Bartholomew –– the longest bayou in the world –– with an  emphasis on species of greatest conservation need. 

“Freshwater mussels are important as natural filters of our rivers yet are in serious decline,” said  Ford, whose expertise includes the life history and behavior of freshwater mussels and their  respective habitats. “These animals clean our rivers and streams by filtering out contaminants, such  as nitrogen, and if they are declining then something is wrong. They are like the ‘canary in a coal  mine.’ We have damaged most of the rivers in several ways but ultimately, we drink that water.” 

There are more than 300 species of freshwater mussels in North America. Louisiana is home to about 65 of those species, Ford added, and little is known about them and their current numbers. Data collected will be shared with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for further assessment. 

Ford retired in 2020 after serving UT Tyler for more than 40 years and continues research projects  focusing on mussel species located throughout the Southeastern United States. He has received  numerous accolades as an educator and researcher including the UT Tyler College of Arts and  Sciences Distinguished Professorship, Southwestern Association of Naturalists’ Donald W. Tinkle  Research Excellence Award, and being elected a fellow of the Texas Academy of Science. His  research efforts have garnered UT Tyler grants totaling more than $500,000. 

He holds a doctorate in zoology from Miami University and a Master of Science in zoology from the  University of Oklahoma. 

With a mission to improve educational and health care outcomes for East Texas and beyond, UT  Tyler offers more than 90 undergraduate and graduate programs to nearly 10,000 students.  Through its alignment with UT Tyler Health Science Center and UT Health East Texas, UT Tyler has  unified these entities to serve Texas with quality education, cutting-edge research and excellent  patient care. Classified by Carnegie as a doctoral research institution and by U.S. News & World  Report as a national university, UT Tyler has campuses in Tyler, Longview, Palestine and Houston.

 

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