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Beth Stefanik
Director of Communications
434.296.5106 (o)
434.282.4371 (c) 

STAB Students Discover Endangered Species Site 

Photo courtesy of Jacob Stoner


Charlottesville, Va., September 13, 2016 – Students in St. Anne’s-Belfield School’s Statistical Analysis of Environmental Field Studies course have found a site of the federally endangered species James River spinymussel (Pleurobema collina) in the White Hall area of Albemarle County.

“This is very exciting,” said course co-instructor Erica Bartos. “When you think about it, these students are involved in finding and protecting something as rare as the Bald Eagle used to be, just not as well-known.”

The course, taught by Bartos and Pearce Johnson, has existed for several years. In the past students have tested water at several of the seven known spinymussel sites in the state, and then compared those sites to samples of other waterways to determine if they could be working with potential sites. Last April, they believed they had a match and found spinymussels in Rocky Creek, in an area under conservation easement and so properly protected.

“Essentially we were comparing rivers looking for similar water qualities,” said Johnson. “The spinymussel is a good ecological indicator of clean water.”

Johnson and Bartos contacted Brian Watson, aquatic resources biologist and malacologist at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, who runs a program surveying this species in the state. Johnson sent photographs of mussels and dead shells that confirmed the find and also volunteered in surveys with Watson to learn the program protocols.

Watson joined students in early September to set up a study site in Rocky Creek, and obtained federal and state permits so that the class could handle the species. They will now participate in a capture/recapture study in which they locate and tag spinymussels and contribute data to the state database. During this initial survey, the group found and marked 26 mussels, 14 of which were the endangered spinymussel.

“This is probably a three to five year study,” noted Johnson. “We’ll be censusing every month except the winter months when the spinymussels have burrowed into the stream bed.”

Watson will join the students for their October fieldwork, and then the class will continue its monitoring  in the spring season and throughout the summer while simultaneously searching for new populations.


St. Anne’s-Belfield School is a co-educational preschool through grade 12 day school of 900 students and 120 faculty and staff, with a boarding program in grades 9 - 12. Seventeen countries are represented in the student body, with 40% of families receiving financial aid. More information may be found at

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