Mussels and Muffins

On September 12, a few of us from BIO teamed up with the Ausable-Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) for their ‘Mussels and Muffins’ event in Ailsa Craig. A number of ABCA biologists including Hope Brock and Kari Jean, organized and led a fantastic outreach event for a large group of local high school students and community members. The BIObus had one of the four stations that the participants cycled through, all concentrating on mussels, local biodiversity, and the human impacts on both. A highlight for us, and many of the students, was learning of the incredible life cycle of snuffbox mussel (Epioblasma triquetra) that involves luring and clamping onto the common logperch (Percina caprodes) to disperse glochidia larvae into their gills — a fact we will not soon forget thanks to Hope’s puppet show!

Emily and Vanessa teach students from Ailsa Craig about invertebrates and their DNA
Emily and Vanessa teach students from Ailsa Craig about invertebrates and their DNA

BIO has also partnered up with Hope and Kari from ABCA on an exciting new research project.  Undergraduate student Kareina D’Souza is working on a project to barcode Canada’s freshwater mollusks, particularly unionid mussels and physid snails.  Her project will focus on species of conservation concern, and non-invasive methods to monitor their populations.  Some day it should be possible to test a water sample from the Ausable River for the presence of particular species at risk, or even detect invasive species, using species-specific probes or sequencing the environmental DNA in that sample (see examples of ‘e-DNA’ studies here or here).  But this won’t be possible until the DNA barcode library is constructed, and that’s what Kareina is working on, and where ABCA comes in.  We’re working with Hope and Kari to sample the mussel species in their watershed, as well as field test a non-invasive sampling protocol that Kareina and BIO’s Kara Layton are working on.  It was a successful day on both fronts — 23 individuals from 6 species were sampled, and a few kinks in the protocol were identified.  In a few weeks time, we’ll know if the samples taken will successfully produce DNA barcodes, but just like our ‘mussels and muffins’ day with ABCA, we’re expecting it to work out perfectly.

Kareina, Hope and Kari work through the tank of mussels from the Ausable River, sampling tissue for molecular work.
Kareina, Hope and Kari work through the tank of mussels from the Ausable River, sampling tissue for molecular work.

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