The Southern Acornshell (Epioblasma othcaloogensis) and Upland Combshell (Epioblasma metastriata) Declared Extinct

Written by Andrew Nagy

On September 30, 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed 23 species from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. They determined that these species are extinct, and consequently no longer need managed under the ESA. Eight of these species were mussels, two of which were historically found in Georgia waterways.

Both the Southern Acornshell (Epioblasma othcaloogensis) and the Upland Combshell (Epioblasma metastriata) are endemic to the Mobile River Basin and were historically present in the Upper Coosa River system in northeast Georgia. Impoundments and water quality degradation led to declines in both species.

Southern Acornshell (Epioblasma othcaloogensis). Photo by Jason Wisniewski (Georgia DNR – Wildlife Resources).

The last Southern Acornshell individuals were found in the Upper Coosa drainage in 1974 and the last Upland Combshell individual was found in the Conasauga River in 1988.  Despite intensive survey efforts since, scientists have failed to find live individuals or shells of either species.

Upland Combshell (Epioblasma metastriata). Photo by Jason Wisniewski (Georgia DNR – Wildlife Resources).

Mussels are important members of aquatic ecosystems. As filter feeders, they assist in nutrient cycling and can help remove harmful substances from the water. In addition, they stabilize the substrate and their shells provide habitat for algae and insects. Unfortunately, they are also among the most imperiled taxa on earth. Approximately 72 percent of mussel species have protection designation by the states in which they exist.

For the full report, see https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2021-21219.pdf.

Congratulations to Fabiola Lopez Avila and Shelby M Bauer, RBC’s 2021 fellows!

Fabiola Lopez Avila

Fabiola Lopez Avila is this year’s RBC John Spencer Fellow. The John Spencer Fellowship honors John Kyle Spencer, a graduate student in the Odum School of Ecology, who was an extraordinary individual loved for his humor, generosity, energy, enthusiasm, and kindness. Each year the Odum School of Ecology, in cooperation with the UGA River Basin Center, awards a research assistantship to one incoming masters student.

Lopez Avila was born in born in Guanajuato, Mexico and has lived in Dalton, Georgia for the last fifteen years. She earned her BS in Biology from Dalton State College in 2018 and is pursuing an MS in Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development at UGA in the Odum School of Ecology.

She was previously with the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute where she worked on microplastics as a research technician. Lopez Avila’s MS research will examine the interactions between microorganisms and microplastics. 

Shelby M Bauer

Shelby M Bauer is this year’s RBC James E. Butler Fellow. Columbus attorney James E. Butler, Jr. established the Butler Fellowships with a $1 million gift to the Institute of Ecology in 2006. Each year the Odum School of Ecology, in cooperation with the UGA River Basin Center, awards a research assistantship to one incoming master’s student in Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development.

Bauer is originally from Minnesota but has spent most of the last ten years in Oregon, with a few winters spent in the Florida panhandle and southern Texas. She earned her BS in Zoology from Oregon State University and is pursuing an MS in Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development at UGA in the Odum School of Ecology.

Bauer has spent the last four years working for the USGS’s Amphibian Monitoring and Research Initiative in Oregon and her master’s research will examine the ecology of the terrestrial-aquatic interface.

RBC researcher Dr. Rod Lammers builds on stream restoration crediting programs

Writer: Cammie Caldwell

Contact: Dr. Roderick Lammers; rod.lammers@uga.edu

The United States and the nation’s streams and rivers have an uneasy history: we need clean water to drink, to irrigate our agriculture, and for industry—not to mention the myriad of other species that rely on freshwater resources to survive—but increasing pollution, nutrient overloads, which can cause algal blooms and decreased water quality, erosion and deforestation put new demands on streams under worsening conditions.

However, Dr. Roderick Lammers, Research Scientist at the University of Georgia, is developing a way for industry and other organizations to even the debt with our freshwater resources through stream restoration crediting programs.

Specifically, Lammers has worked alongside Wright Water Engineers, an engineering firm in Denver, and other UGA researchers to create methods for quantifying benefits that stream restoration activities may provide to regions seeking to improve water quality. These methods are applicable to stream restoration projects everywhere, but are receiving the most attention in parts of the country with significant water quality challenges.

With an estimated 51 billion gallons of water flowing into it on a daily basis, and runoff from five states, the Chesapeake Bay receives large amounts of pollutants, and it serves as an excellent starting point for developing these crediting approaches.

The states that contribute to run off in the Chesapeake have been aiming to improve water quality by encouraging stream restoration and other projects, making it a source of innovation in the field. In fact, Lammers has adapted many of the methods originally developed by the Chesapeake Stormwater Network.

His project is intended specifically to help state and regional agencies set up their own crediting programs.

“This document is targeted mainly to state or regional agencies who are responsible for setting up crediting programs having to do with stream restoration,” Lammers said.

Stream restoration projects are often taken on with a lack of understanding and measurements about the possible benefits they could provide. This is due to the fact that monitoring of stream restoration projects can take extensive time and money to perform.

“We want to develop a database around performance of stream restoration projects. Currently, few of these restoration projects are monitored and it is often unclear how well they work. We want to be able to quantify how much nutrient reduction one of these stream restoration activities would cause,” Lammers said.

To combat this gap in knowledge, Lammers is setting out to create quantification methods that focus on four major types of stream restoration strategy, each with its own formula.

The first, bed and bank stabilization, helps to prevent erosion and the release of phosphorus into the stream. Lammers is able to estimate the benefits of this type of project by measuring levels of erosion before and after the project, then calculating the amount of phosphorous reduced by stopping said erosion.

Next, the creation of riparian buffers traps sediment and pollutants within natural vegetation along streams before they can reach the water. These are assessed based on the size of the buffers and estimates of how many nutrients they can remove from an area.

“Another strategy is stream enhancement, which involves putting structures in the streams like rocks, logs, or anything to stabilize the channel,” Lammers explained. “These projects are assessed by how well they improve the filtering capacity of the stream and their contribution to water quality.”

The last is floodplain reconnection, which works to make the stream channel and floodplain act as a unit to reduce erosion and improve water quality. To measure the benefits of this strategy, Lammers calculates how much water moves through the connected floodplain and how much pollution removal has been removed.

The methods and databases that Lammers is working on can connect to small, regional projects but also to wider goals as well, having to do with policy and large-scale water quality standards.

When it comes to the Chesapeake Bay region, these four quantification methods, as well as others, are being incorporated to understand the best ways the area can reduce their excess nutrient levels. There are many other potential benefits of stream restoration besides than nutrient reduction that Lammers is not focusing on but finds important, such as benefits for fish, animals, flooding, insects, recreation, and more.

“This information can also provide a platform for water quality trading programs. We want to know how we can create a marketplace to encourage the most effective ways of improving water quality. For example, if a wastewater treatment plant is unable meet EPA limits on the amount of nutrients they can discharge, it may be cheaper for them to pay for stream restoration projects that could result in improved water quality in a more efficient way, rather than installing expensive upgrades at their facility,” Lammers said.

This work was made possible thanks to the Water Research Foundation.

Call for proposals: John Spencer Research Grants Program!

We are now accepting proposals from graduate students for the 2021 John Spencer Research Grants program!

The UGA River Basin Center announces the 2021 call for proposals for John Spencer Research Grants to graduate students. This program was initiated in 2017 with a contribution from Kathelen Amos in honor of her son, former RBC master’s student John Spencer. Ongoing funding is provided by donations to the RBC.

Small grants are available to all students affiliated with the River Basin Center. Affiliate status is open to any graduate student at the University of Georgia, including those in professional programs, as long as their research and/or interests align with the RBC mission, which is to connect water-related research at UGA with societal management and policy needs. Students can request affiliate status by emailing Sarah Buckleitner at Sarah.Buckleitner@uga.edu. This can be done concurrent with submitting a proposal. Small grants are intended to support a student’s research activities. Projects should advance the RBC’s goal of sustainable management of aquatic resources and ecosystems, but can be in any discipline or disciplines. Funds can be used for research supplies, travel expenses associated with research, hourly wages for undergraduate research assistants and graduate stipends. Travel to conferences may be included, but conference travel funding must be limited to $1000.

Proposal Format (2 page limit, exclusive of budget and references):

Title of proposal

Applicant’s name, email address, department, degree program

Introduction, problem statement, and research question(s) to be tested. Applicants should emphasize the work to be funded by the proposal, but also explain how it fits into the broader context of their thesis, dissertation, or other project, as appropriate. Research questions should be specific and the scope should be appropriate to the scale of the project.

Research plan and methods: Be specific but concise.

Budget with justification

Budgets cannot exceed $2000. If the proposed work requires a budget greater than the limit, briefly explain what other funds will be used to complete the work.

References

Proposals must be accompanied by a brief (one page limit; one paragraph is sufficient) endorsement from the applicant’s advisor or other faculty sponsor of the work.


Proposals for 2021 are due April 23, 2021. Decisions will be announced 2 weeks later, and funding will be made available shortly thereafter. Funds will need to be spent by June 30, 2022, unless special arrangements are made.

Proposals should be submitted as a single PDF file to Sarah Buckleitner at Sarah.Buckleitner@uga.edu by midnight eastern on April 23, 2021.


Proposals will be evaluated by volunteer faculty affiliates of the RBC who have no conflicts of interest with applicants. Proposals will be evaluated both on quality of the project (potential contribution of the proposed work and relevance to the RBC’s mission) as well as quality of the proposal itself (i.e., how well it communicates the content and whether it includes all necessary components).

Finding Water in the Desert

Water scarcity in arid environments around the world is a threat to ecosystem health as well as to the livelihoods of the one billion people who inhabit them.

Dr. Adam Milewski, an affiliate with the River Basin Center at the University of Georgia and an Associate Professor and Associate Department Head in the Department of Geology, is helping to tackle this issue by researching the best way to locate groundwater recharge in arid regions in the southwestern United States and in several Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.  

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Supporting Policy in the Face of Sea Level Rise

Writer: Hayley Hunter, River Basin Center

Contact: Katie Hill, Carl Vinson Institute of Government

Sea level rise is an issue many coastal communities are already facing. The sea level off the Georgia coast has risen over 9 inches in some places, and that number will only continue to grow (UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant). The Georgia coast has seen more frequent flooding events, more significant tides, and stronger, more dangerous hurricanes.

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers partners with University of Georgia to form the Network for Engineering With Nature

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and University of Georgia (UGA) recently announced a partnership that connects the interdisciplinary expertise of UGA’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS), with the vast on-the-ground experience of USACE’s Engineering With Nature® (EWN®) Initiative to form the Network for Engineering With Nature (N-EWN).

Through this partnership and a new $2.5 million award to UGA from USACE, researchers are expanding and accelerating EWN and the practice of natural infrastructure in the public and private sectors.

EWN is an initiative developed by USACE to efficiently and sustainably deliver economic, environmental and social benefits through the use of natural infrastructure. By using a combination of natural and conventional processes and materials, natural infrastructure can protect people, homes and habitats. It can come in many forms and scales, including sand dunes engineered to prevent erosion, floodplains along rivers, which allow the river to ebb and flow without flood risk to communities, and coastal wetlands, which filter out pollution and provide habitat. 

Sixteen UGA researchers from 10 different colleges and departments will apply their expertise to N-EWN’s mission. The project leader for UGA is principal investigator Dr. Brian Bledsoe, a professor in the College of Engineering, who specializes in resilient infrastructure. The N-EWN partnership will also draw from the expertise of the UGA’s River Basin Center and Center for Integrative Conservation Research. In addition, an equal number of researchers from USACE will add their knowledge and skill to the network, led by Dr. Todd Bridges, the EWN National Lead and Dr. Jeffrey King, EWNDeputy National Lead.

“We are delighted to be working closely with USACE’s world class researchers. Together, we can take our research on natural infrastructure to the next level and inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists who will reshape the nation’s water resources infrastructure,” Bledsoe said of the partnership.

In an ambitious set of pilot projects, the researchers will improve methods for using natural infrastructure to strengthen community resilience, create models and dashboards that allow designers to map out how natural infrastructure can provide more benefits to society, and inspire a new generation of engineers, ecologists and social scientists to utilize natural infrastructure through education and workforce development.

To come along on the journey, follow the hashtag #N-EWN on Twitter and Instagram, where we will post updates on the individual projects, researcher profiles, and exciting innovations in the field. Find more information about N-EWN on our website, https://n-ewn.org/

Tennessee Aquarium and UGA’s River Basin Center to Host Pioneering Workshop Addressing Freshwater Microplastic Pollution

Writer: Casey Phillips

Chattanooga, Tenn. (Sept. 10, 2020) – It is the inevitable destiny of all water that falls on land to eventually return to the sea. And like an enthusiastic tourist, it can’t help but pick up souvenirs along the way, whether it’s dirt, fertilizers or — as many scientists now suspect — plastic.

In recent years, the world slowly has awoken to the, ironically, enormous impact microscopic plastic has on marine life. Every year, an average of 8.8 million tons (about 17.6 billion pounds) of plastic fragments or manufactured plastic objects measuring smaller than five millimeters across enter the ocean. There, they’re consumed by microscopic organisms and eventually work their way up the food chain to humans.

Although the bulk of plastic waste originates inland, microplastic is largely seen as a coastal issue thanks to images of plastic debris piled up on beaches or found inside marine animals. Little is known about how this plague of plastic affects the rivers, lakes and streams through which it passes on its way to the sea.

On Sept. 14, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute hopes to make inroads to answering that question as host to a virtual workshop on freshwater microplastic research. The workshop was organized in partnership with the River Basin Center at the University of Georgia. 

Among other topics, participants in the one-day summit will focus on developing standards to ensure current and future researchers can reliably compare and build on each other’s findings.

“In a new field of research where so many different methods are being used, it is extremely important that studies are designed and conducted so we can compare and replicate results from different labs,” says Dr. Anna George, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education.

“Not only will these studies improve our understanding of how plastic pollution reaches the ocean, they will also provide insight into an emerging threat to maintaining clean water for us all.”

The workshop initially was scheduled to take place in April at the Conservation Institute’s headquarters on the banks of the Tennessee River. However, the ongoing health crisis necessitated a different approach, and it now will be held via Zoom video conference.  

Dr. Krista Capps, an assistant professor with the Odum School of Ecology and Savannah River Ecology Lab, helped organize the workshop of 50 participants. Her research into how microplastic is affected by water treatment facilities has been hampered by a lack of agreed-upon research standards.

The issues caused by this absence of structure spurred the idea for the upcoming workshop, Dr. Capps says.

“There are currently no accepted standard methodologies to collect and identify microplastic pollution, as the field is developing so quickly,” she says. “Many researchers I contacted were also frustrated by this situation. The workshop is an outgrowth of my search for expert advice and a quest to develop standard quality assurance and quality control protocols for sampling and analysis.”

The workshop participants represent a variety of institutions, including the University of Georgia, Sewanee: The University of the South, Auburn University, Mississippi State University, the University of Alabama and Vanderbilt University as well as Riverkeeper organizations, SeaGrant consortiums and government agencies.

“Plastic pollution is a problem that affects everyone,” Dr. Capps says. “The greater diversity of stakeholders and academic disciplines involved in working on this problem, the more holistic our approach to understanding plastic pollution will be.”

The workshop will feature presentations by several experts, including:

·         Dr. Rae McNeish, an assistant professor of biology at California State University, Bakersfield

·         Dr. Jeremy Conkle, an associate professor of physical and environmental science at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi

·         Dr. Andreas Fath, a professor of physical chemistry and analytics at Germany’s Furtwangen University

Dr. Fath made headlines in 2017 with a record-setting marathon swim of the entire 652-length of the Tennessee River. During this 34-day undertaking, he and his team took daily measurements of various water quality indicators, including the presence of microplastics. With data from locations along the entire course of the river, this “swim for science” represented one of the first comprehensive studies of how microplastic moves through freshwater systems.

Analysis of the project’s findings found microplastic levels in the Tennessee River that were 80 times higher than Dr. Fath detected during a similar study of Germany’s Rhine River in 2014. These results were a clear sign that microplastics have a greater, if largely uninvestigated, potential to impact freshwater sources than previously assumed, Dr. George says.

“Some freshwater-focused scientists, myself included, thought plastic in freshwater was moving out to the ocean so quickly that it probably wasn’t having a major impact on freshwater habitats or animals,” she says. “Dr. Fath’s work demonstrated that there was enough microplastic pollution in freshwater habitats that we needed to learn more about its impact in our streams and rivers.”

For more information about the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, visit tnaqua.org/conserve

To learn more about the River Basin Center at the University of Georgia, visit ecology.uga.edu.

Details about Dr. Andreas Fath’s TenneSwim project are at en.rheines-wasser.eu.

Congratulations to our 2020 John Spencer Research Grant recipients!

The River Basin Center John Spencer Research Grants support graduate students affiliated with the RBC with small grants of up to $2,000. This program was launched in 2016 with a generous donation from Kathleen Amos, and is named in honor of her son, John Spencer, a former master’s student at the River Basin Center and Odum School of Ecology.

Donations to this fund are currently being accepted through the River Center Fund. Please include RBC Spencer Grants in the Special Instructions on page two of the form.

Meet this year’s recipients

Carolyn Cummins

I am a PhD student in Dr. Amy Rosemond’s lab, and my research is focused on the effects of temperature on stream ecosystems. Specifically, I am interested in how stream insects respond to temperature and how these responses may scale up to affect ecosystem processes like leaf litter breakdown. I am originally from Durango, Colorado and attended Colorado State University. I have always been interested in the natural world, and this was nurtured further after I got involved with research and had the opportunity to do field work late in my undergraduate career. I switched my focus from pre-vet to Ecology, and the rest is history! In my spare time, I enjoy cycling, hiking, rock climbing, and cooking!


Ranjit Bawa

My research includes two general and overlapping areas of interest. First is how modeling non-point source (NPS) pollution influences water quality, especially as it pertains to the role of human interaction. Second, I am interested in advancing economic applications as it relates to agent behavior in the context of decision-making under uncertainty and ultimately, policy design. My most recent work attempts to value changes in water yields by surveying Georgia landowners whose forests serve as watersheds for the provision of critical ecological services (i.e. increased water yields). I am originally from the Boston area and worked in finance before returning to school for graduate studies in Statistics and Agricultural Economics some years later. Most recently, I was based in Minneapolis prior to starting my research program at the University of Georgia. In my spare time, I enjoy exploring new hiking trails around northeast Georgia and basketball.


Derrick Platero

My project is a detailed characterization of soil physical properties, which are critical inputs for modeling landscape-scale water table fluctuations. Spatial predictions of these properties with depth at the field-scale are often related to microtopography, which can be represented with detailed topographic indices. Proximal sensing techniques like electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) and electromagnetic Induction (EMI) are more useful in identifying subsurface features associated with changes in ground conductivity. EMI has been used to quantify a variety of soil properties including texture, moisture, and pH. The objective of this research was to create detailed maps of sand, silt, and clay by depth for a 50-acre crop field in a Georgia Piedmont floodplain using a combination of depth-averaged specific conductance from EMI and topographic indices derived from lidar. We will develop spatial predictions of soil texture for each increment using regression-kriging and random forest models, and will compare them to available data in soil surveys. Models will be validated using k-fold cross validation. The resulting maps will be used to direct a subsequent sampling effort focused on soil hydraulic properties and water table modeling. Soil texture maps are an essential part of the soil assessment framework which can support advances in sensor technology and computer modeling. I am from the Navajo Nation located in New Mexico. I completed my undergraduate degree with a Bachelors in Agriculture in Soil Science with a minor in geology at New Mexico State University. I am currently working on my M.S. in Soil Science at UGA and plan to do my PhD after completion. I have a passion for Geo sciences–specifically soil science, hydrology, geology, and agriculture.


Laura Kojima

I am a first year Master’s student in the CESD program in Odum and my research is focused on alligator ecotoxicology and movement behavior. I am currently looking at the frequency with which alligators on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site move on and off the site to public hunting grounds and whether this puts hunters/consumers at risk of contaminant exposure. This is done through GPS/telemetry and biological sample collection. The funding from RBC will also contribute to looking at the potential for alligators to act as biological vectors for contaminants through a captive study, in which we collect feces, analyze it for contaminant off-loading, and compare contaminant levels to that of other biological samples such as blood and tail muscle. I have a research background in herpetology, and am originally from California, where I worked with western pond turtles during my undergraduate degree at UC Davis. Right after graduation, I worked with USGS on their giant gartersnake project for a season then took a few months off before moving for grad school.