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Great Lakes Center Brings World's Leading Freshwater Mollusk Scientists to Buffalo

Great Lakes Center Brings World's Leading Freshwater Mollusk Scientists to Buffalo

Posted: October 1, 2015

North America is home to more freshwater mussel species than any other place in the world. It is therefore fitting that the Second International Meeting on Biology and Conservation of Freshwater Bivalves will take place in Buffalo, NY, from October 4 to October 8.

The conference, hosted by the Great Lakes Center, brings together experts on freshwater mollusks from across Europe as well as from Canada, Australia, Brazil, and the United States. The first conference, held in Portugal in 2012, was spearheaded by Manuel Lopes-Lima, a member of the Mollusk Specialist Group and a research scientist with the University of Porto, Portugal. Lopes-Lima is one of four keynote speakers at the conference; Alexander Karatayev, director of the Great Lakes Center and one of the world’s experts on freshwater mollusks, is another. The other keynote speakers are Caryn Vaughn from the University of Oklahoma and Kevin Cummings from the Illinois Natural History Survey.

“Mussels are very important,” said Karatayev. “They provide a number of services to their ecosystem by cleaning the water through filtering, being part of the food chain, and providing a substrate for other invertebrates. And they are the most threatened group of aquatic animals in the world because of pollution, damming, dredging, and other human activity.”

Gone from the World
For Karatayev, however, the drive to preserve these species goes beyond their usefulness. “They are, in their way, like the giant sequoia,” he said. “They can live for 100 years. They are the largest and most beautiful of the aquatic invertebrates.” He brings a six-inch shell from a display on his wall, tilting it so its pearlescence catches and reflects the light. “Because North America has so many native mollusk species, we must be responsible for them,” he continues. “If they disappear from here, they are gone from the world.”

Individual species have very specific habitat requirements. In the same way that bird species vary in their requirements—open meadows, forest, shorelines, food—various mollusk species may require still water, moving water, mud-bottomed ponds, or rocky substrates to survive and reproduce. They are also called “biological indicators” because of their sensitivity to pollution. They are also known as “umbrella species” because their protection ensures protection of other aquatic species.

Sharing Data
One item on the agenda is to explore standardizing procedures in research methods. “As scientists, we want to be unique and design our research to meet our particular interests,” said Karatayev. “But if we can standardize some procedures, it is easier to share and summarize data.” Karatayev is deeply committed to scientific collaboration; he believes that more people cooperating makes for more powerful and influential studies.

The 80 scientists in attendance will represent 19 countries including Poland, Romania, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Russia. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown will welcome the visitors when the conference opens at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo on Monday, October 5 at 9:00 a.m. 

The conference sponsors are EnviroScience; Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; the Great Lakes Research Consortium; the Macological Society of London; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; and the Great Lakes Center, Buffalo State College.

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