Graduate Position – Endangered Freshwater Mussel Conservation Research

Photo shows a freshwater mussel in hand

A freshwater mussel apocalypse is underway. Want to be part of the solution?

Graduate Position – Endangered Freshwater Mussel Conservation Research

The Environmental Studies Program at Virginia Commonwealth University ( in collaboration with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS; invites applications from prospective graduate students for Fall 2020 to collaborate on our USFWS funded project on in vitro propagation of imperiled freshwater mussels.

Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled groups of animals in the country, 72% of them are extinct, endangered, threatened, or state/federally listed. Over 900 species exist in the world and 300 reside in North America; many of them in Virginia, the 6th most diverse state in the country. Since the mid-90’s some wildlife resource agencies have been using propagation and culture of mussels to release juveniles back into the wild to augment and recover declining populations. Freshwater mussels require the use of a host fish to complete their life-cycle to reproduce successfully; however, for some mussel species the host is unknown, not abundant, or it does not produce enough juveniles to adequately augment or restore wild populations. In these cases, in vitro propagation is being used to produce juveniles without the host fish.

This research focuses on improving our current techniques for in vitro mussel propagation and performs fundamental experiments to begin our understanding of any life history or population-level effects that in vitro mussels could have on wild populations. Work will mainly occur at the VCU Rice Rivers Center in the USFWS in vitro lab, as well as occasional fieldwork to collect brooding female mussels. Working with some of the most endangered animals in the world as well as working with VCU and the USFWS represents an excellent opportunity for interested students. There is also a great opportunity to work on the project over the summer to gain additional experience and income (e.g., spring/summer technician employment).

Prospective students with a Bachelor’s degree are encouraged to apply through the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Environmental Studies Masters in Science program (  Competitive stipends, tuition waivers, and support for fieldwork are available. Successful candidates will likely have had a BS in environmental science, biology, natural resources (or related field), GPA >3.25 prior research experience, a strong interest in developing quantitative skills, and a high level of self-motivation.

Interested persons should initially email a letter that summarizes their background, educational goals, and research interests, along with resume/ CV with contact information for three references to Dr. James Vonesh (

Note the application deadline for Fall 2020 is fast approaching – 10 January 2020. So individuals interested in applying will need to act quickly!

Virginia Commonwealth University, located in Richmond, VA, is a large public R1 university and has an active and diverse ecology and conservation faculty that are engaged in research around the world ( We have a strong group in freshwater ecology and also offer with the River Management society the River Studies and Leadership Certificate ( Richmond is an exciting place to live and work (, voted Outside Magazine’s “Best River Town in America” (, the third most tattooed city in America, according to the Today Show, and perhaps simply the “Best City in America” (