University of Alabama Receives $1.8 Million to Study Mussel Biodiversity

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Alabama has more than 180 freshwater mussel species, more than any other state.

Carla Atkinson

A research team led by the University of Alabama has received $1.8 million to study biodiversity of freshwater mussels. The National Science Foundation announced the award Thursday.

Carla Atkinson, an assistant biology professor at the University of Alabama and one of the principal investigators on the study, says Alabama has an abundant variety of mussels. “We have over half of the species that occur in North America, so it’s a really excellent place to study patterns of biodiversity in this particular group,” Atkinson says. She and fellow biologists from the University of Alabama and the University of Mississippi want to know how and why so many species exist.

Research will focus on the potential role of the mussels’ gut microbiome, genetic diversity and environmental factors. Most North American mussel species are imperiled and Atkinson says findings could help improve conservation efforts. The research is scheduled to last four years and will take place across Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Mary Scott Hodgin

Mary Scott Hodgin

Health and Science Reporter