Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.
The Tumbling Creek cavesnail isn’t much bigger than a speck of gravel. It clings to creek rocks in Tumbling Creek Cave, the most biologically diverse cave west of the Mississippi. Because the snail is highly sensitive to environmental changes, it is a good indicator of the cave’s ecological health. It is also at risk of extinction.
Fortunately, the snail has a team dedicated to its recovery. Fifteen years into the effort, the Cavesnail Working Group, which includes several agencies, researchers, and nonprofits as well as cave owners Tom and Cathy Aley, is seeing a rise in cavesnail numbers. Fisheries Biologist David Woods is the current Tumbling Creek recovery plan leader for MDC’s cavesnail efforts. “We survey the cavesnail population twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall,” he said. “In the mid-2000s, we saw no cavesnails in the surveys. Now we routinely find snails.”
Aside from monitoring the cave’s water quality and conducting twice-yearly surveys, the team also controls the snail-eating ringed crayfish. It lives in nearby Bull Shoals Lake, which can backflow intothe cave during heavy rains. “We contract with the Tumbling Creek Cave Foundation to trap and remove crayfish every week,” Woods said.
Because what happens above ground affects cave life below, the team focuses much of its efforts on the surrounding landscape. Since the early 2000s, dumps have been cleaned up, sewage systems have been upgraded, and erosion on the land that drains into the cave has been dramatically reduced. “Lessons learned from implementing the cavesnail’s recovery plan have improved the state’s cave and karst management as a whole,” Woods said.
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber
Art Director - Cliff White
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler