Pearls of the Gasconade

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

stream organisms Missouri has. The web of life those streams sustain is diverse. All aquatic animal species, including 65 species of mussels, rely on clean water and suitable stream conditions to survive. Simply put, Missouri has much to lose if aquatic life declines.

Bruenderman and Faiman's field work here on the upper Gasconade is crucial to addressing the plight of mussels. Their study on the Gasconade and other rivers will be a blur of long days on the river and analyzing data back at the Conservation Department's Conservation Research Center in Columbia. Their research may influence everything from land management practices to endangered species policy. Such scientific work is slow and often tedious. Biologists will tell you that nature seldom reveals its secrets to the impatient or lazy.

The pair also is studying mussels in the Meramec and Little Black river basins. Today they are working just upstream from the Conservation Department's Schlicht Springs Access, about five miles south of Crocker in Pulaski County. Historically the Gasconade has harbored stable populations of about three dozen mussel species. It's also home to a number of those in trouble, including the sheepnose, scaleshell and elephantear.

The Gasconade provides a glimpse of the wider problems facing mussels. Within minutes of launching their boat, Bruenderman and Faiman are eye to eye with one of the problems. A black Angus cow is standing belly-deep in the river. "You'll see whole herds of cattle in the tributaries of the Gasconade," Bruenderman remarks. Cattle trails denuded of all grass crisscross the bank. Cattle increase soil erosion and damage habitat when they wade in streams. Their waste also adds nutrients that increase algae blooms and deplete oxygen in the water, harming or killing aquatic animal and plant life.

Along this section of the Gasconade, the right bank is covered with sycamores, cottonwoods and other growth that stabilize the bank. Treeless grazing pasture runs right up to the bank on the opposite side. Where pasture and river bank meet there is only a sheer 15-foot wall of exposed soil. Eroded soil is clearly pouring into the stream. "Odds are you aren't going to find many mussels there," Bruenderman says.

Such disturbances are gradual in their harmful effects on populations of mussels and other aquatic life, including fish that host mussels in their microscopic larval stage. "As more and more of the watershed is disturbed, you get gravel movement." Bruenderman

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