ELKINS, W.Va. — Although she started her carer as a fish biologist, Janet Clayton of the Division of Natural Resources will likely forever be known for her work in the area of mussel research.
“I originally went to school to go into fisheries, but being a female in the wrong era, the powers to be led me in a different direction,” Clayton explained in a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors.
Clayton’s work with mussels started while she worked for what was the forerunner to the West Virginia DEP. She happened to overhear a supervisor talking about an upcoming training session on mussels and the eavesdropping paid off.
“The program got some funding to send off a biologist to a mussel identification class,” Clayton recalled. “I overheard him talking to my boss outside my door and he said, ‘You know I really don’t want to go.’ I opened up my door and said, ‘Can I?'”
It was Clayton’s first introduction to mussels, and it would be several years before the work began in earnest. She would return to work with the Division of Natural Resources and as time went own she established herself as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the creatures. She was recently honored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for as a 2018 Recovery Champion
“Janet’s knowledge, leadership, and passion for the conservation of endangered freshwater mussels helped foster highly successful partnerships committed to the recovery of these species,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson. “She has taught others about the importance of these species and inspired them to support recovery efforts.”
A news release detailing the award chronicled Clayton’s work with freshwater mussels and protecting them in our West Virginia streams:
Clayton has worked to systematically survey streams throughout West Virginia to locate new populations of these listed species, established programs to regularly monitor their status, and developed standardized protocols to assist others in conducting accurate and reliable surveys. She also worked to expand and apply these techniques to other states and regions resulting in significant improvements to the status of freshwater mussels throughout the Ohio River basin.
Clayton then tirelessly worked with partners to develop and implement new methods of protecting and restoring mussel populations. She coordinated the collection of samples to help develop DNA techniques to identify streams where listed mussels are present, and has braved harsh weather to gather broodstock to assist with captive propagation efforts. These mussels were then used to help restore populations throughout the Ohio River basin.
Her restoration methods are scientifically rigorous, and included addressing proper genetics management, developing release protocols to increase survivorship, quantitative pre- and post-restoration monitoring, and the application of new techniques to mark and identify mussels such as using PIT tag reading equipment in deep water with divers.
Additionally, Clayton has used her expertise to teach others about the importance of these species and inspired them to support their recovery. Clayton assists with the NCTC Conservation Biology of Freshwater Mussels class and also developed and teaches a week-long training class in the ecology and identification of freshwater mussels in West Virginia. She also helped to expand the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society into an international organization dedicated to the protection of mussel species. The conservation success of the West Virginia mussel program has been a model and an inspiration to our partners in conservation.
She adamantly defends her work, part of which is to explain the value of mussels to our ecosystem. She regrets their contribution to clean water is often misunderstood and under valued.
“Each mussel can filter five to ten gallons of water a day,” she explained. “That’s a lot of filtering capacity that the mussels are doing and we don’t have to do.”