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Science Lecture: Past, Present And Future Of Illinois Freshwater Mussels

Illinois State Museum

You might not realize it, but the lowly freshwater mussel can fill in some of the gaps of history.  Researchers are doing just that here in Illinois, seeing how mussel species have developed and in some cases, died off.  This type of research also shows the impact of changes in ecosystems.   

Robert Warren is Curator of Anthropology at the Illinois State Museum.  He'll speak Wednesday night, December 10, in the next the science series lecture.  The event starts at 7 p.m. at the Research and Collections Center at 1011 East Ash Street in Springfield.  It's free and open to the public.

Historically, the streams and lakes of Illinois housed a rich fauna of freshwater mussels. Biologists have documented 79 species in the state, and mussel populations were formerly quite large. However, many mussel communities have declined because of recent human alterations of the natural environment.

Mussel collections from archaeological sites provide important baseline information on the diversity and composition of past mussel communities. There are striking contrasts between ancient and modern mussel collections in the Illinois River, and these differences tell an interesting story about how the river and its mussel communities have changed.

The presentation also looks at past and present human uses of mussels – as sources of food and also as raw material for making shell tools, ornaments, buttons, and cultured pearls.

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