Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

James L. Wilson

Committee Members

Gerald R. Dinkins, Steven A. Ahlstedt, Bruce E. Tonn


The Buffalo River in Tennessee once hosted a rich population of freshwater mussels. During the 1980s, monitoring efforts demonstrated evidence of drastic declines and extirpation of entire assemblages. Increases in municipal development in the headwater tributaries and agriculture in the main stem of the Buffalo River are suspected causes for mussel community declines throughout the river. In 2011, collection data documented evidence of recovery in the lower Buffalo River. The aims of this project were: 1) to update the status, distribution, and species composition of mussels in the Buffalo River and its major tributaries through qualitative sampling, and 2) to analyze healthy community structures through quantitative sampling.

Timed qualitative searches to establish Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) were conducted at approximately 8 km intervals (5 river miles) in the main channel and in major tributaries. A total of 33 species including two species new to the river drainage were recorded at 57 collecting sites. The highest number of live species per site was 20, recorded 3.2 mi (5.1 km) above the confluence with the Duck River. The most abundant and widely distributed mussels recorded in qualitative sampling were Villosa taeniata and Lampsilis fasciola, which were observed at 21 and 18 sampling sites, respectively. Catch Per Unit Effort varied throughout the drainage, demonstrating isolated pockets of healthy mussel assemblages as well as stretches of river with few live individuals. Quantitative sampling was conducted at Buffalo River Mile 3.2 (BRM 3.2) because of its community’s abundance and species richness. Twenty species and 178 live mussels were observed, with an average of 1.8 mussels per quadrat. The once-abundant mussel fauna in the middle and upper Buffalo River has yet to recover, but encouraging signs of limited recovery in the lower reaches of the river should be strongly considered in the watershed’s future management and conservation efforts.

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