- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Biologists, river advocates and environmental officials are trying to figure out why mussels are dying in a central Ohio river known for its biodiversity, raising concerns about the creek’s long-term health.

Dozens of dying or dead mussels have surfaced along miles of Big Darby Creek since October, Anthony Sasson, freshwater conservation manager for the Nature Conservancy in Ohio, told The Columbus Dispatch (https://bit.ly/2dYNblj).

Mussels are highly sensitive to environmental changes, making them “canaries in the coal mine” for ecosystems linked to the creek, said John Tetzloff, president of the Darby Creek Association president.

“This is one of the few last healthy rivers in America. If we lose that we’re losing a key piece of our heritage,” said Tetzloff, adding that the development “could be the end of Darby as we know it.”

Biologists, mollusk experts and state and federal officials met Oct. 20 to discuss the die-off. They’ve been surveying the stream and collecting samples, but say it could be weeks before they determine a cause, the Dispatch reported.

So far, no one knows if disease, a spill of some sort or diminishing overall water quality is affecting the mussels.

At least two federally endangered mussel species, the clubshell and northern riffleshell, have been affected, according to Jo Ann Banda, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The creek is a designated National Scenic River and considered one of the most biodiverse streams in the region.

Endangered mussel populations have declined in recent years in Ohio, though efforts over the past ten years have helped reintroduce them in some waterways, said Tom Watters, a mollusk curator at Ohio State University.

Biologists recently transplanted federally endangered mussel species into the Darby, including thousands of riffleshells from the Allegheny River in western Pennsylvania.

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