Freshwater Mussels in Kentucky

New distributional atlas supports conservation efforts

Kentucky, with its diverse natural environment, supports at least 100 native freshwater mussel species and subspecies. This number represents one-third of North American mussel diversity, and Kentucky, along with other southeastern states, supports the most diverse mussel fauna of any region on Earth. Unfortunately, this fauna is greatly diminished by human activities: about 12 mussel species in Kentucky are extinct, 10 other species are extirpated from the state, and many surviving species are imperiled.

U.S. Forest Service fisheries research biologist Wendell Haag and Ronald R. Cicerello, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission (retired), recently published A Distributional Atlas of the Freshwater Mussels of Kentucky, which not only maps out and summarizes all available information about the distribution of mussels in Kentucky, but also describes and illustrates changes in their distribution over the last 100 years.

“This period spans the time for which we have the most data on mussel distribution in Kentucky,” says Haag, who works for the Forest Service Southern Research Station Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research unit, and is based in Frankfort, Kentucky at the Center for Mollusk Conservation. “It’s also the period of time in which the changes in mussel distribution were almost entirely a result of the effects of humans on streams and rivers.”

The introductory section of the book provides a discussion of river systems and aquatic habitats in Kentucky, a history of mussel studies in the state, patterns of diversity and biogeography, and conservation issues.

The book includes species accounts for all 98 freshwater mussel species reported from Kentucky. Each account includes two separate maps of the state, one showing the species’ distribution prior to 1990, and the other for 1990-2015. Maps are followed by brief descriptions of general and Kentucky distribution, habitat and larval hosts, and conservation status.

“The atlas is not a guide to identification or a comprehensive treatment of mussel ecology,” says Haag. That information can be found in photographic guides and mussel books for Kentucky and surrounding states, including Haag’s 2012 book on the natural history, ecology, and conservation of North American freshwater mussels.

A Distributional Atlas of the Freshwater Mussels of Kentucky was published by the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission and co-authored by Ronald R. Cicerello, with funding for printing and distribution provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kentucky Ecological Services Field Office.

The book is available free of charge from the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission. A pdf version of the book is also available for download.

Information about ordering the publication.

For more information, email Wendell Haag at

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