Science Excellence

2013 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence (Individual)

Photo of Jeff Williams. Credit: USFWSDr. Jess W. Jones


Award Criteria 1: Conservation Application

Dr. Jess Jones, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, is a recognized, national leader in freshwater mussel conservation and restoration. Freshwater mussels are the most imperiled group of animals in the country with a number of species teetering on the brink of extinction. Of the 300 species historically documented in the U.S., over 40 are currently listed as threatened or endangered. Many of these rare species inhabit the upper Tennessee River basin; an area where Jess and his team direct an amazing amount of talent and energy. The task of recovering this group of rare species is daunting because it is complicated by environmental variables such as poor land use practices, extractive industries, climate change, and invasive species. These variables are further compounded by the freshwater mussel lifecycle, one of the most complex in the animal world. Even with these hurdles, Jess and his team are consistently able to show demonstrable, high quality, recovery success both in the field and the laboratory.

Jess fostered partnerships and developed innovative propagation technologies and methodologies that are critical in the continued restoration of multiple federally listed threatened and endangered mussel species. Stationed as a faculty member at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Virginia, he leads the freshwater mussel restoration work for two multi-million dollar Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) cases in the upper Tennessee River basin. These cases include multiple partners and long-term (>10 years) projects. To restore the many listed species required by the NRDAR settlements, the Service needed to raise large numbers of mussels in a laboratory setting at a reasonable cost. None of these threatened and endangered species had been propagated in the laboratory prior to these spills. Jess and his team stepped up to determine fish host usage of mussels; improve captive care of fish hosts; enhance feeding ecology of juvenile mussels in captivity; and better understand the dynamics of culture systems for mussels. Jess has been inexhaustible in his efforts to improve the science to meet this critical Service mission. Jess readily shares his innovations. To capture the lessons learned from this intensive research, Jess developed the first laboratory "Protocols for the Captive Care of Host Fishes" for the Virginia Tech aquaculture facility which are now used by other State and Service facilities around the country.

Award Criteria 2: Scientific Contribution

Jess' international collaborations are extraordinary and benefit the Service in multiple ways. He has facilitated academic exchanges among the Service, Virginia Tech, and the Freshwater Fisheries Research Center (FFRC) in China. Jess has elevated the Service's scientific standing in China by conducting seminars with scientists and graduate students in the Department of Fisheries Genetics of FFRC and from the Department of Academic Training and Wuxi Fishery College of Nanjing Agriculture University and from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Science in Beijing to promote conservation and recovery of mussels so these principles can be used throughout China. In return, Jess hosted three visiting Chinese professors from the China Ocean University. These exchanges provided opportunities for the Service to learn how Chinese scientists propagate mussels and how their technology can be applied to improve our own mussel propagation efforts in the U.S. Because of his tireless efforts to promote mussel awareness and conservation, he worked closely with External Affairs to produce a video and blog about his China trip and other mussel release events in the U.S. so that the experience could be shared with biologists in the Service, other agencies, and the public. Jess' international collaborations extend beyond China. Currently, he is mentoring a visiting professor from Brazil, Dr. Callil, for one year to learn mussel propagation, culture, and monitoring techniques so she can apply these methods to the conservation and recovery of mussel fauna in southern Brazil.

As a world leader in mussel conservation, Jess is often an invited speaker at local and national meetings and symposiums. This year he was an invited speaker at the Society of American Foresters meeting. The focus of the meeting was threatened, sensitive, and endangered species and Jess shared his expertise on freshwater mussels and important issues related to restoration and land management. Last year he was keynote speaker at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society where he gave an overview of freshwater mussels of the Ohio River Basin.

Jess' contributions facilitated Service and scientific community understanding of the complexities of freshwater mussel biology, ecology, and conservation. Jess conducted population assessments and genetic analysis on many of these species. This research was necessary to broaden our knowledge about freshwater mussel ecology, life history, and demography and to guide Jess' recovery efforts. Jess' scientific research has been widely recognized through numerous peer reviewed publications. A few notable examples are listed below:

Jones, J.W., N. Johnson, P. Grobler, D. Schilling, R.J. Neves, and E.M. Hallerman. Population genetics of the endangered rough pigtoe (Pleurobema plenum) (Bivalvia: Unionidae). Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management (accepted 2013 to be published 2014).

Jones, J.W., S.A. Ahlstedt, B.J.K. Ostby, B. Beaty, M. Pinder, N. Eckert, R.S. Butler, D. Hubbs, C. Walker, S. Hanlon, J. Schmerfeld, and R.J. Neves. Quantitative assessment of freshwater mussel populations in the Clinch River, Tennessee and Virginia from 2004-2009 and collapse of the fauna at Pendleton Island since 1979. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (accepted 2013 to be published 2014).

Tang, M., Y. Jiao, and J.W. Jones. 2014. A hierarchical Bayesian approach for estimating freshwater mussel growth based on tag-recapture data. Fisheries Research 149:24-32.
Carey, C.S., J.W. Jones, R.S. Butler, and E.M. Hallerman. 2013. Determining optimum temperature for growth and survival of laboratory-propagated juvenile freshwater mussels. North American Journal of Aquaculture 75:532-542.

Jones, J.W. and R.J. Neves. 2012. Influence of life history variation on demographic responses of three freshwater mussel species (Bivalvia: Unionidae) in the Clinch River, U.S.A. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 21:57-73.

Award Criteria 3: Extraordinary Results

Jess' mussel conservation work has evolved to including working closely with Virginia Tech to restore and reconfigure the aquaculture center for use to conduct climate change and contaminants research on various stream species, to include mussels and fishes. A stream mesocosm system for growing mussels outdoors and in the greenhouse has been completed (phase I) and an Algal Turf Scubber (phase II) has been constructed and completed to help maintain system water quality. Phase I of the project was published in the North American Journal of Aquaculture in October 2013. Jess has broadened his reach to promote mussel conservation and is active in two Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. For the Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative, he has provided technical expertise to help develop aquatic indicator/surrogate species for monitoring aquatic systems. For the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Jess has been working with others to study interactions between climate change, contaminants, and ecosystems.

Jess' passion and enthusiasm for his work sets him apart from other biologists in the field of mussel conservation and recovery. He inspires others to carry on this work by teaching and mentoring the next generation of mussel conservation biologists. He has taught Applied Conservation Genetics, a graduate level semester course at Virginia Tech, given numerous lectures for conservation and fisheries classes, and participated in course development with the Service's National Conservation Training Center for a new course offering, Mussel Conservation Biology. Jess serves on the committees of five Master of Science projects and one Doctoral project in the Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences Department at Virginia Tech. These students and their projects benefit the Service by improving our knowledge on how to monitor the growth and survival of freshwater mussels and developing a decision-making framework for risk analysis of management strategies to help restore endangered species. In fact, Jess has mentored many students who are considered experts in mussel conservation, some who have gone on to work for the Service around the country.

After one of Virginia's most catastrophic spills destroyed one of the last remaining populations of the federally listed endangered tan riffleshell, Jess' demonstrated persistence, ingenuity, and fostered partnerships with other agencies to release over 26,000 glochidia and juvenile mussels to augment the 100 adult tan riffleshells that remain, increasing the likelihood of species recovery. Furthermore, the laboratory Jess oversees has successfully reared thousands of juvenile oyster mussels, a federally listed endangered mussel, to breeding age (4 years) and has recently documented that these mussels are reproducing in captivity. This is the first ever successful captive breeding on this scale. Jess and his partners have released hundreds of thousands of hatchery-reared mussels to restore one of the nation's most biologically diverse ecosystems. Through the implementation of Jess' novel monitoring methodologies, he has confirmed that survival and growth rates for propagated and released mussels at multiple sites are very similar to natural rates in the sections of the same rivers not affected by the spills. Jess has also observed natural recruitment from released mussels propagated and reared in the lab demonstrating the truly extraordinary success of Jess' restoration efforts.

For the last five years, Jess' passion and dedication in all that he does has provided insights into mussel conservation issues that have helped the Service develop numerous partnerships and achieve extraordinary freshwater mussel conservation results making him deserving of this prestigious award.


Northeast Regional Blog: Meet a leading scientist in freshwater mussel conservation

Northeast Regional News Release: Jess W. Jones Wins U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Science Excellence Award


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Last updated: March 21, 2017

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