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Jess Jones

Restoration Biologist - US Fish & Wildlife Serv

Ph.D., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2009)
M.Sc., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2004)
B.Sc., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (1996)


My research focuses on conservation biology of freshwater mussels, with an emphasis on: (1) Conservation aquaculture, (2) Restoration ecology and monitoring of populations, (3) Aquatic ecotoxicology, and (4) Conservation genetics. I am particularly interested in improving field and laboratory techniques to restore mussel populations to enhance the capability of the Department of Interior’s Natural Resource and Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) program, including applying small- and large-scale mesocosms to improve captive growing and experimental conditions for endangered mussels and fishes.

  • Applied Conservation Genetics (6984)

Propagation, Restoration and Monitoring of Mussel Populations in the Clinch and Powell Rivers

Initiated in 2004, this is a multi-partner (Virginia Tech, USFWS, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, The Nature Conservancy) long-term (>10 years) project to restore and monitor mussel populations in the Clinch and Powell Rivers in Virginia and Tennessee using NRDAR settlement dollars. The project uses innovative propagation technology at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center (FMCC) to produce thousands of mussels of 10-12 species per year for release into each river. The project is the largest of its kind in the country and has effectively re-established numerous species to several river sections where they previously were extirpated.
Eco-toxicological Assessment of Mussel Population Declines in the Clinch River

The purpose of this project is to evaluate exposure and toxicological effects of contaminants in the water and sediment to mussels in the Clinch River. Mussels have severely declined in a 40-mile section of the river in Virginia, but are abundant and healthy in Tennessee. At multiple sites from 2012-2014, the project has measured water and sediment concentrations of organic and inorganic contaminants, and assessed mussel survival, growth and tissue concentrations of contaminants. The project will help determine whether contaminants are at levels that are harmful to mussels and thus, impacts are ongoing. This is a collaborative study with faculty and staff at North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, USFWS and TNC.

Major Ions in the Clinch and Powell Rivers: Assessing Eco-toxicological Influence on the Rainbow Mussel

The goal of this project is to assess toxicity of major ions in combinations and concentrations characteristic of Virginia’s Clinch and Powell Rivers to a native species, the rainbow mussel (Villosa iris). Surface mining of coal occurs in these watersheds, releasing major ions in water discharges. Total dissolved solids (TDS) concentrations and those of major ions Ca2+, Mg2+, SO42-, and HCO3-, are elevated relative to historic levels in both rivers and exhibit increasing temporal trends. Mussel densities are substantially reduced relative to historic levels in sections of each river with highest TDS. Laboratory-reared juvenile V. iris are being exposed for 60 days to water with TDS and major ion concentrations similar to current concentrations in these rivers. Effects on mussel survival and growth are being recorded and data analyzed to determine appropriate eco-toxicological endpoints such as LC50.
Population Viability Analysis of Endangered Mussels in the Tennessee River Watershed

The purpose of this project is to conduct a Population Viability Analysis for the endangered Cumberlandian combshell (Epioblasma brevidens) and oyster mussel (Epioblasma capsaeformis) populations in the Clinch, Powell and Nolichucky rivers to guide ongoing recovery and reintroduction efforts for both species by determining: (1) Minimum viable population sizes based on demographic and genetic data in each river, (2) Demographic vital rates needed to maintain stable populations over specified time-periods, and (3) Amount of suitable habitat (e.g., number of shoals and their size) and best stocking locations in each river.

Taxonomic and population genetic assessment of the endangered Purple and Cumberland bean mussels

The purpose of this project is to conduct a taxonomic and population genetic assessment of Cumberland Bean (Villosa trabalis) and Purple Bean (Villosa perpurpurea) in the Cumberland and Tennessee River basins. This is a high priority project because once population genetic issues are resolved, restoration activities can be implemented in multiple watersheds to recover both species. Data will be used to determine the taxonomic status of both species, i.e., whether they are different species or a single taxon, and to make population genetic management decisions on augmentation and reintroduction activities for each species in the Cumberland and Tennessee River basins.

Assessment of phenotypic and molecular genetic variation of mussel species belonging to the genera Fusconaia, Pleuronaia and Pleurobema in the Tennessee River drainage

The purpose of this project is to develop a phenotypic trait-based key to probabilistically delineate “look-alike” freshwater mussel species belonging to the genera FusconaiaLexingtonia and Pleurobema. These species are of conservation concern and routinely monitored by state and federal natural resource agencies. Hence, development of a probabilistic trait-based key will support a higher rate of positive identifications for this group of “look-alike” species. Further, the key would will serve as a training tool for biologists, helping them to consistently apply the most reliable traits to identify each species.

Academic and scientific exchange with Dr. Claudia Callil, Federal University of Mato Grasso, Brazil

Dr. Callil at the Federal University of Mato Grosso, Brazil and I are working together to develop mussel restoration strategies that can be utilized in the United States, Brazil, and other parts of the world. Her research is focused on the distribution and functional roles of freshwater invertebrates in the Pantanal basin of southern Brazil, the world’s largest freshwater wetland, where she works on the ecology of the wetland in order to understand environmental drivers that control the distribution and abundance of freshwater mussels and other aquatic invertebrates. Over the last 20 years, she has focused on improving the science and conservation of the Pantanal and of mussels throughout South America.

  • Jones, J.W., N. Johnson, Grobler, P., D. Schilling, R.J. Neves and E.M. Hallerman. 2015. The endangered rough pigtoe (Pleurobema plenum) (Bivalvia: Unionidae): Assessment of phylogenetic status and genetic differentiation of two geographically isolated populations in the Ohio River basin, U.S.A. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management (Accepted).

  • Carey, C.S., J.W. Jones, B. Butler, E. Hallerman. 2015. Restoring the Endangered Oyster Mussel (Epioblasma capsaeformis) to the Upper Clinch River, Virginia: An Evaluation of Population Restoration Techniques. Restoration Ecology (Published Early Online: DOI: 10.1111/rec.12195).

  • A.E. Pinkney, D.A. Cristol, C.T. Driscoll, D.C. Evers, M.J. Hooper, J.W. Jones, R.S. Lazarus, A. Milliken, B.A. Rattner, J. Schmerfeld, D.W. Sparling, T.H. Tear. 2015. Interactive Effects of Climate Change with Nutrients, Mercury, and Freshwater Acidification on Key Taxa in the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative Region. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (Published Early Online: DOI: 10.1002/ieam.1612).

  • Hua, Dan, Y. Jiao, R.J. Neves, J. Jones. 2015. Using PIT tags to assess individual heterogeneity in a mark-recapture study of laboratory-reared juveniles of the endangered Cumberlandian combshell (Epioblasma brevidens). Ecology and Evolution (Published Early Online: DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1348).

  • Jones, J.W., R.J. Neves and E.M. Hallerman. 2015. Historical demography of freshwater mussels (Bivalvia: Unionidae): genetic evidence for population expansion and contraction during the late Pleistocene and Holocene. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 114:376-397.

  • Zipper, C.E., B. Beaty, G.C. Johnson, J.W. Jones, J. Krstolic, B.J.K. Ostby, and W. Wolfe. 2014. Freshwater mussel population status and habitat quality in the Clinch River, Virginia-Tennessee, USA: A Featured Collection. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 50:807-819.

  • 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. 2014. 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 50:820-836.

  • Price, J.E., C.E. Zipper, J.W. Jones, C.W. Frank. Water and Sediment Quality in the Clinch River of Virginia and Tennessee, 1964-2010. 2014. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 50:837-858.

  • Tang, M., Y. Jiao, J.W. Jones. 2014. A hierarchical Bayesian approach for estimating freshwater mussel growth based on tag-recapture data. Fisheries Research 149:24-32.

  • Huang, Z., J.W. Jones, J. Gu, *T. Lane, E.M. Hallerman, X. Song, and R. Wan. 2013. Performance of a recirculating aquaculture system utilizing an algal turf scrubber for scaled-up captive rearing of freshwater mussels (Bivalvia: Unionidae). North American Journal of Aquaculture 75:543-547.

  • 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.