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Greg Cope

Professor & Dept. Extension Leader

David Clark Labs 240


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Date: 01/01/22 - 12/31/31
Amount: $250,000.00
Funding Agencies: NC Department of Transportation

Native freshwater snails (gastropods) are a highly diverse and globally imperiled fauna. Throughout North America and in North Carolina in particular, there are numerous imperiled snail species and one, the Magnificent Ramshorn (Planorbella magnifica), is currently a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Magnificent Ramshorn is a large air-breathing snail endemic to four lentic systems in the Cape Fear River basin of southeastern North Carolina. It was last documented in sampling conducted in 2004 and based on the results of recent repeated surveys by qualified species experts, there appear to be no extant populations of Magnificent Ramshorn remaining. The failure to detect the species in surveys to date in the species’ historical habitat and suitable habitat in surrounding areas indicates that the species is likely extirpated in the wild. However, captive populations of the snail are being held at three separate (ark) locations in North Carolina to prevent extinction; one in our laboratory at NC State University, one at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Marion Conservation Aquaculture Center, and one at the Coastal Plain Conservation Group. We and these other two facilities have used basic aquatic culture techniques to sustain the captive populations through multiple generations, but additional research and testing is urgently needed to improve and expand their culture, propagation, and eventual restoration back into the wild. In this project, we will conduct research that will enhance captive propagation methods, the understanding of water quality and habitat characteristics influencing their survival, growth and reproduction, the genetic consequences of small population sizes, and the restoration and monitoring of Magnificent Ramshorn snails reintroduced into the wild.

Date: 01/01/22 - 12/31/25
Amount: $900,000.00
Funding Agencies: NC Department of Transportation

Atlantic Pigtoe, Dwarf Wedgemussel, Yellow Lance, and Tar River Spinymussel are four imperiled mussel species whose habitats lie within and may be affected by construction in the 540 project area. In order to address conservation needs for this species, tools must be developed that will allow researchers and natural resource managers to examine and monitor their health, including genetic fitness. In this project, we propose to analyze the current genetic diversity, population structure, and effective population sizes of these four species using molecular markers (single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs). These SNPs will then be used to establish standardized panels for each species that can be used to monitor genetic diversity and hatchery contribution as populations are augmented or reintroduced. We will also examine the overall fitness of the four target species within priority watersheds and hatcheries (Yates Mill Aquatic Conservation Center and NC Wildlife Resources Commission Conservation Aquaculture Center) by examining microbial, fungal, and viral communities through the use of histology and genetic sequencing, and using the field of “-omics” ( metabolomics, proteomics, transcriptomics) to define and compare levels of fitness between and within wild, restored, and hatchery held populations and individuals. After establishing a baseline of health and fitness, we will develop a suite of biomarkers and mussel health metrics that can be used to assess the health and fitness of mussel populations and that can be used to inform management actions, hatchery operations, and species restoration efforts. Finally, we will define and begin implementation of quantifiable conservation targets based on the tools developed in the previous two objectives. We will synthesize the research completed in the first two objectives to set measurable conservation targets for each of the four priority species through a use of various models and workshops. We then expand the techniques from objectives 1 and 2 to evaluate the conservation targets.

Date: 12/18/19 - 8/15/23
Amount: $225,129.00
Funding Agencies: US Geological Survey (USGS)

The freshwater aquatic organisms that inhabit rivers, especially those that reside in coastal drainages live in constrained corridors. Thus, populations can only move and adapt to changing environmental conditions in a longitudinal manner (upstream to downstream or downstream to upstream). Many of these organisms have evolved and adapted to live in preferred habitats and water quality conditions within these streams, and relatively rapid human-induced changes pose a unique challenge for their continued survival and persistence. This is especially true for our native freshwater mussels belonging to the family Unionidae, which are already among the most imperiled groups of fauna on the planet. One such factor associated with changing environmental conditions in a climate-influenced scenario that may adversely impact freshwater mussels inhabiting coastal rivers is sea level rise and accompanying changes in the salinity regime. For example, a recent published study has shown that 42% of coastal North Carolina could be inundated with 100 cm of sea level rise and that evaluating this risk is essential for understanding adaptation potential and decision making. Therefore, the overall aim of this project is to investigate the adaptation and vulnerability potential of a native freshwater mussel living in coastal riverine drainages to climate-induced, sea level rise, specifically fluctuating salinity, temperature, and flow regimes. The specific objectives of our study are to: (1) assess the vulnerability of the Tidewater Mucket (Leptodea ochracea), an imperiled freshwater mussel species that resides in lower Atlantic Slope coastal drainages to salinity by conducting standard sensitivity tests with early life stages (e.g., larvae, juveniles) of the mussel under controlled laboratory conditions; (2) determine the potential effects of natural riverine salinity gradients on adult mussels by conducting a reciprocal transplant experiment with salinity adapted and non-salinity adapted mussels; and (3) develop a risk-based scenario of mussel salinity tolerances in existing occupied habitats incorporating predictions in sea level rise and projected salinity ranges. This project directly addresses Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center and partner agency priority topics and is a collaborative effort among North Carolina State University, the U.S. Geological Survey’s North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Raleigh North Carolina Field Office, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the University of Georgia. The peer-reviewed publications, relevant infographics for web sites, and visualization maps of the overlap of sea level rise and mussel salinity sensitivity that will comprise our primary products and deliverables will illustrate the areas of rivers where mussels may be lost or conserved due to climate-induced salinity changes and will provide federal and state natural resource managers, policy makers, and future researchers with actionable management and conservation information and potential options for maintaining this highly imperiled, but valuable molluscan resource in the face of predicted climate-induced sea level rise and salinity fluctuations.

Date: 08/28/20 - 5/31/23
Amount: $140,318.00
Funding Agencies: US Geological Survey (USGS)

The Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States contain the greatest biodiversity of native freshwater mussels in the world, but they are highly imperiled due to habitat alteration and destruction, pollution and poor water quality, and the introduction of aquatic invasive species. Over recent decades, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state fish and wildlife management agency biologists have responded to an increased frequency of mussel die-offs, enigmatic declines, and problems with decreased mussel growth and survival, but a definiticve cause has yet to be identified. However, a recent, but unexplained relation has been identified between manganese (Mn) concentrations and several of these mussel decline and die-off events. Therefore, we propose to examine the toxicity of Mn to mussels in controlled laboratory tests with captively propagated larval and juvenile mussels and with adult mussels collected from low Mn-containing streams. We will then compare these findings to mussels and Mn concentrations in water and sediment from streams where die-offs and declines have occurred. This high impact project focuses on native freshwater mussel conservation priorities of the Southeast region and potentially nation-wide. The project has direct links to the strategic science needs of the natural and cultural resource managers in the region and beyond, because it addresses specific priorities outlined in the State Wildlife Action Plans for the conservation of native freshwater mussels in the States of North Carolina and Virginia and federal at-risk molluscan species in Region 4 and Region 5 of the USFWS and others across the country. In addition, this project will have direct relevance and benefit to other federal resource management and research agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who utilize the mussel toxicity data in water quality criterion development. The completion of these research objectives will provide natural resource managers and other decision makers with real-world exposure and survival scenarios and would directly impact the recovery plan for the endangered Appalachian Elktoe mussel by informing the potential causal mechanisms for its die-off and decline in the Little Tennessee River of North Carolina. The persistence of all freshwater mussels will be addressed in the scope of the project.

Date: 10/01/16 - 1/31/23
Amount: $1,120,000.00
Funding Agencies: National Fish & Wildlife Foundation

The southeastern United States (US) is the richest region of global diversity for freshwater mussel, snail, fish, and crayfish, and is, therefore, a region of high conservation priority. However, this high regional biodiversity intersects with intense pressures of energy mining and development, urbanization and sprawl, increasingly intensive agricultural practices, and growing demands on water and other natural resources for human use. Nestled within this complex landscape, and falling within this rich faunal province, North Carolina contains streams that drain to the Interior Basin (Tennessee – Cumberland) in the west and to the Atlantic Ocean (Atlantic Slope) in the Piedmont and East. The species of freshwater mussels (Unionoida), snails, and fish vary among these regions of the state, face differing landscape and water quality challenges, and, therefore, have differing statues of conservation concern. For example, North Carolina once supported more than 60 species of freshwater mussels, but unfortunately, 50% of these species are now designated as Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern and the state’s 161 freshwater fish of conservation concern are also likely integral to the unique unionoid mussel life cycle, serving as obligate hosts during the mussels’ parasitic larval stage. Because of these declines and degree of imperilment, protection, restoration, and conservation of these irreplaceable aquatic organisms are paramount. The proposed research will specifically benefit these imperiled mollusks and non-game fishes and contains objectives related to their captive propagation and culture, improvement of their water quality and riparian environment, and better understanding of their ecosystem function and services. The specific tasks include: (1) propagation and culture of the federally endangered Dwarf Wedgemussel, the at-risk Yellow Lance mussel, and the at-risk Magnificent Ramshorn snail; (2) understanding the ecosystem functions and services provided by native freshwater mussels and their associated economic and social benefits to humans and other wildlife; (3) determining the effects of transportation and energy production stressors on the survival, health and well-being of native freshwater mussels; and (4) assessing the integrated risk, ecology, and control of Giant Lyngbya (an invasive Cyanobacteria species) on native mussels. These collective projects will provide natural resource managers and other decision makers with the tools, organisms, and science-based information needed to restore, improve, and conserve these important faunal resources.

Date: 04/08/21 - 12/31/22
Amount: $214,296.00
Funding Agencies: NC Wildlife Resources Commission

The southeastern United States is the richest region of global diversity for freshwater mussels, snails, fish, and crayfish, and is, therefore, a region of high conservation priority. However, this high regional biodiversity intersects with intense pressures of urban and suburban development and sprawl, increasingly intensive agricultural practices, and growing demands on water and other natural resources for human use. Nestled within this complex landscape, and falling within this rich faunal province, North Carolina contains streams that drain to the Interior Basin (Tennessee – Cumberland) in the west and to the Atlantic Ocean (Atlantic Slope) in the Piedmont and East. The species of freshwater mussels (Unionoida), snails, and fish vary among these regions of the state, face differing landscape and water quality challenges, and, therefore, have differing statuses of conservation concern. For example, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program recognize approximately 50 species of freshwater mussels native to North Carolina and identifies 31 (62%) as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Wildlife Action Plan. The proposed research will specifically benefit these species and contains tasks related to their captive propagation and culture for restoration and recovery.

Date: 04/20/15 - 3/31/21
Amount: $6,127,354.00
Funding Agencies: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The mission of the Center for Human Health and the Environment (CHHE) is to advance understanding of environmental impacts on human health. Through a systems biology framework integrating all levels of biological organization, CHHE aims to elucidate the fundamental mechanisms through which environmental exposures/stressors interface with biomolecules, pathways, the genome, and epigenome to influence human disease. CHHE will develop three interdisciplinary research teams that represent NC State’s distinctive strengths. CHHE will implement specific mechanisms to promote intra- and inter-team interactions and build interdisciplinary bridges to advance basic science discovery and translational research in environmental health science along the continuum from genes to population. These teams are; - The Molecular/Cellular-Based Systems and Model Organisms Team will utilize cutting edge molecular/cellular-based systems and powerful vertebrate and invertebrate model organisms to define mechanisms, pathways, GxE interactions, and individual susceptibility to environmental agents. - The Human Population Science Team will integrate expertise on environmental exposures, epidemiology, genomics and epigenomics to identify key human pathways and link exposure and disease across populations. - Bioinformatics Team will develop novel analytics and computational tools to translate Big Data generated across high-throughput and multiscale experiments into systems-level discoveries To further increase the impact and translational capacity of these teams, CHHE will develop three new facility cores that will provide instrumentation, expertise, and training to facilitate basic mechanism- to population-based research. - The Integrative Health Sciences Facility Core will expand the ability of CHHE members to translate basic science discoveries across species and provide mechanistic insights into epidemiological studies by partnering with: a) NC State’s Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD); b) East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine and c) NC Dept. of Health and Human Services. - The Comparative Pathobiology Core will be located at NC State’s top-ranked College of Veterinary Medicine and its nationally recognized veterinary pathology group to facilitate assessment of the effects of environmental stressors in the many model organisms utilized by CHHE members. - The Systems Technologies Core will introduce state-of-the-art proteomics capabilities and dedicated bioinformatics support to expand the ability of CHHE members to analyze the Next Generation Sequencing data involving the genome, transcriptome and epigenome. As a land-grant university, NC State has an extensive and active Cooperative Extension Service network throughout North Carolina. CHHE will utilize this unique network to develop a highly effective, multi-directional Community Outreach and Engagement Core to disseminate findings that will contribute to addressing disparity in exposures and health outcomes and to educate communities about environmental influences on health. A strong Career Development Core for early stage scientists that is coordinated with a robust Pilot Project Program will support cutting-edge, collaborative and multidisciplinary environmental health projects to enhance the research success and impact of our membership. Through these activities and the purposeful interfacing of different disciplines CHHE will build on NC State’s unique research and community outreach strengths to become a premier transformative and synergistic EHS Core Center.

Date: 04/01/17 - 12/31/20
Amount: $199,500.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

Many streams, lakes, and reservoirs in North Carolina are adversely affected by excess nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus) and organic carbon associated with algae and with deposition of fine sediment. These pollutants enter freshwaters through various point and nonpoint sources such as wastewater treatment plant and industrial plant effluents, storm-water runoff, landscape development, and agricultural activities. These excess nutrients lead to rapid eutrophication (nutrient over-enrichment) and subsequent adverse effects such as harmful algal blooms, reduced dissolved oxygen concentrations, less palatable drinking water for humans and livestock, and fish kills. Reducing nutrient and sediment influx to surface waters from all sources is important, and utilizing established best management practices such as improved effluent treatment technologies, vegetated buffers along streams and reservoirs, and storm-water retention ponds are all proven techniques. Another demonstrated influence on nutrient cycling and availability in aquatic systems is the natural functional role of ecosystem services provided by native freshwater mussels of the families Unionidae and Margaritiferidae. This project will provide urgently needed information on the nutrient (nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon) assimilative and cycling capacity of native freshwater mussels (Family Unionidae) under eutrophic conditions commonly encountered in surface waters of North Carolina; these mussel responses will be evaluated within an ecosystem services framework to assess potential effects on water quality.

Date: 10/02/18 - 4/01/20
Amount: $70,408.00
Funding Agencies: Duke Energy Foundation

We will address the following focus areas: improvement of water quality and aquatic conservation, the enhancement of fish and wildlife habitats, and increasing public education and awareness on the value of protecting water resources. Our first goal is to improve water quality and aquatic conservation and enhance fish and wildlife habitat by demonstrating that native freshwater mussels are a conservation priority, in part, because they positively impact the overall health of surface waters through their natural filtering activity. In order to achieve this goal, we will show that filtering provides a water purification service for human and environmental health by measuring mussel pollutant removal. Pollutant removal will be quantitatively measured in two ways. First, we will pair pollutant concentrations in field-collected mussels with estimates of population size to demonstrate the large-scale benefits that mussel populations provide to surface waters. Second, we will conduct 28-day laboratory experiments exposing freshwater mussels to environmentally relevant concentrations of two toxic heavy metals – cadmium and nickel – to understand how they process, partition, and eliminate metals. Results of the experiments will show what proportion of metals is removed from water and accumulates in the soft tissues of mussels, what proportion is excreted into sediments and rendered unavailable to humans and wildlife via an aqueous exposure, and how these functions change over time. Our second goal is to increase public education and awareness on the value of protecting water resources, particularly related to the ecosystem services of mussels. To achieve this goal, we will first investigate public awareness of water quality issues by conducting focus groups and key informant interviews. Two focus groups will be held with residents in the upper, middle, and lower portions of the Neuse River Basin (six focus groups total) and key informant interviews will be held with additional stakeholders (e.g., policy makers). The purpose of focus groups and interviews is to reveal patterns in public awareness about water quality, including knowledge about ecosystem functions that maintain and improve water quality (e.g., filtration by mussels), and whether people relate such functions to their own well-being. This endeavor is especially important in our project area, the Neuse River Basin, because it has a history of water impairment issues and, more recently, has experienced conflict between aquatic conservation and infrastructure improvement (e.g., I-540 expansion). Achieving the goals outlined here is important for meeting our land-grant university mission of research engagement with public partners and solving problems important to North Carolinians using an integrated approach (here, both ecotoxicological and social science research).

Date: 01/01/14 - 12/01/18
Amount: $460,000.00
Funding Agencies: US Fish & Wildlife Service

The robust redhorse (Moxostoma robustum) is a rare and imperiled, large catostomid fish found in only three regulated river drainages in the southeastern U.S. The species was originally described in 1870 from the Yadkin–Pee Dee drainage in North Carolina and is known to make seasonal migrations within freshwater systems. It has large pharyngeal teeth for crushing mollusks and other invertebrates known to sequester anthropogenic contaminants. The robust redhorse has been negatively affected by habitat modification and fragmentation from hydroelectric dams, introduced species, sedimentation, and water pollution and is protected by state endangered status in Georgia and North Carolina. Previous research by the Principal Investigators has shown that habitat suitability will be enhanced by prescribed flow augmentations from hydroelectric dam releases; however, the impacts of water quality and contaminant loads remain unknown. In addition to the unknown effects of traditional organic and inorganic contaminants, recent research suggests that the impact of emerging contaminants, such as endocrine disrupting compounds and pharmaceuticals, may be of significant detriment to fishes and other Wildlife Action Plan priority species in the Pee Dee River. These uncertainties must be resolved before additional and significant investments are made in population augmentation or other recovery efforts. To further elucidate the impact and potential threat of water quality and contaminant dynamics on the robust redhorse, the aquatic food web, and 53 priority aquatic species of the Pee Dee River, we propose six research objectives to pursue in the Pee Dee River of North Carolina and South Carolina. We will (1) conduct systematic field sampling of habitat and food web components, (2) conduct experimental field bioassay exposures with captively-propagated robust redhorse, (3) perform laboratory analyses of traditional and emerging contaminants on aquatic habitat and food web components and histopathology to identify intersex condition in fish (i.e., effects of endocrine disrupting compounds), (4) determine aquatic food web structure and pathways using stable isotope ratios, (5) develop population and food web models to describe and project effects of habitat and water quality modifications, and (6) synthesize results for robust redhorse recovery from population and ecosystem perspectives. This research is unique in that it will yield results and inference that are descriptive (systematic sampling), explanatory (experimental bioassays, food web analyses), and predictive (population and food web modeling) at multiple scales and across disciplines to inform decision making and management. The food web to be studied supports a total of 53 priority aquatic species (31 fishes, 21 mussels, 1 crayfish), 35 species in the NC Wildlife Action Plan and 26 species in the SC Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy that will benefit from this research. Our proposal addresses critical research needs identified by the Robust Redhorse Conservation Committee, South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and the State Wildlife Action Plans of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and is supported by these consortia and state and federal natural resource agencies to guide management objectives and goals for species recovery and habitat restoration at the landscape level.

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