Mike Davis, aquatic ecologist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Center for Aquatic Mollusk Programs in Lake City, Minn., will discuss conservation and restoration of Minnesota’s native mussels on Wednesday, February 7, at 7 p.m., at the Winona Senior Friendship Center, 251 Main Street, Winona. This monthly program is presented by the Winona Bird Club and is free and open to the public. After Davis’ program, attendees are invited to stay for decaf coffee and treats.
Davis is a founding member of the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society and an author or coauthor of numerous publications on native mussel ecology. He served five years as a river ecologist on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Upper Mississippi River Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program’s Science Panel made up of 10 river experts across the nation. In 2014 he established the Minnesota DNR’s Center for Aquatic Mollusk Programs in Lake City, Minn.
In Minnesota, over half of the 50 native mussel species are in trouble, including three that are now extinct from Minnesota and at least three more are in imminent danger of extirpation. Why should you care? What can be done to restore these species in Minnesota? Davis’ program explains how humans have affected mussel populations (including the button factories that once existed all along the Upper Mississippi) and also describes conservation efforts underway to reintroduce lost species into rivers.
Not to be confused with the invasive zebra mussels, native mussels are unique in their diversity of size and form, life histories, longevity and positive effects on water quality and habitat for other aquatic species. Species diversity, abundance, or absence of mussels can tell us a lot about local waters. Aggregations (beds) of mussels clean the water passing by as they transform and transfer nutrients to the bottom, which enhances the food chain by attracting many species of fish – an aquatic version of a coral reef. The DNR has accumulated a large database on mussels and is now beginning the next step of restoring these important ecological engineers to area surface waters.
Davis describes how his early interests developed into his scientific career. “Enchanted with water as a child, I have lived and worked on, under, or near lakes and rivers ever since,” he said. “Over the years I have employed myself as a commercial fisherman, fur trapper, clam harvester and farmer. In 1985 I turned from commercial fishing to harvesting river clams (mussels) since they were worth more per pound than carp. That was a turning point; they were so interesting that I returned to college and graduated from Winona State University with a B.S. degree in biology. I began my Minnesota DNR career in 1986 when I completed a native mussel survey of the Cannon River system and documented the presence of a species not previously reported in the state. With LCCMR funds, a statewide Mussel Survey Program started in 1999 that continues with other funding today.”
The Winona Bird Club (AKA Hiawatha Valley Audubon Society) has been meeting regularly since 1961. Monthly programs from September through May offer current scientific information and engaging personal experiences related to conservation of birds, mammals, aquatic life, and other aspects of the natural environment. Programs are free and open to the public. Nominal annual membership fees enable the club to offer high quality monthly programs, field trips, Christmas bird count, and a youth environmental camp scholarship.