GSC Conservation and Research Updates, November Edition

Freshwater Mussels

The GSC has partnered with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to conserve and bolster freshwater mussel populations in our state. As part of the Revolution Ridge zoo expansion, we constructed a freshwater mussel propagation lab.

Freshwater mussels are one of the world’s most imperiled taxa, facing threats from habitat destruction, erosion, sedimentation, toxins and man-made structures like dams. These bottom dwelling, efficient filter feeding animals are a critical component in maintaining healthy waterways.

Freshwater mussels live in all freshwater systems, including stream, lakes, ponds, and rivers, but one rarely encounters them. This is because they’re very well tucked away. Using their “foot” to sink themselves into the substrate, they project a siphon into the water to collect tiny particles to feed on.

We recognize that to conserve nature, one first has to connect with it – so we now have mussels on display in the lab. We want guests to see and learn about mussels so they can understand why we are working so hard to save them.

The GSC is home to nine freshwater mussels. These large-bodied, thick-shelled specimens are our ambassadors. These are Elliptio Complanata, or the Eastern elliptio. Elliptio are found throughout NC and the eastern US. Our residents are from a stream in Guilford County. Since so few people come in contact with freshwater mussels in the wild, we wanted to have large mussels for the public to view. These mussels will live at the GSC and remain on display. Additional species will join the lab in the future for propagation purposes.

“Unless someone like you care a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” –Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax

Meet the GSC’s First-Ever Conservation and Research Technician, Lauren Highsmith

Lauren working on the system in the mussel lab

We’re excited to welcome Lauren Highsmith to the Conservation & Research department. Lauren is completing her BS in Marine Biology from UNC-Wilmington. She brings to us a passion for aquatic life and conserving species in addition to experience maintaining aquatic invertebrates. Lauren is using her knowledge about invertebrate husbandry and maintaining water chemistry to care for our resident freshwater mussels.

She enjoys exploring nature, be it diving in the Caribbean or hiking in the mountains. Her family ties to Barbados have taken her to the island and its surrounding seas to study sea turtles, iguanas, corals, and other Caribbean wildlife.

After only one month, Lauren has already jumped into the role feet first. She has assisted with collecting bee and butterfly data at one of our field sites, she is caring for the freshwater mussels in the lab and she is analyzing acoustic data for one of our bat projects.

A Quick Q&A with Lauren

What drew you to the C&R Tech position? The thing that drew me to this position most was just the way that I have always had a love for working with nature and the environment, as well as with the animals that inhabit it. When I was a child, I used to love to visit the Greensboro Science Center when we were in town, so when I noticed the listing for a job opportunity at the facility, it was a no-brainer. I had always really enjoyed my time visiting the GSC, so getting the opportunity to work here was a dream!

You have been here 1 month. What is the most surprising thing about the job? I think the most surprising (and most enjoyable) aspect about the position is the way that we are always working on some new project. There is never a dull moment in the lab, and no two days are the same!

What do you look forward to learning in this role? I look forward to learning more about mussel husbandry, as well as gaining new experiences through the projects we are a part of now, as well as the projects we hope to be a part of in the future! I am always looking for new learning opportunities!

What fun facts do you want people to know about you? I have five dogs and two cats; we love animals in our household! My favorite animal is a whale shark! I absolutely love pickle juice. Gross, right?

Welcome to the GSC family, Lauren! We know you are going to do great things.

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