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Why the Mississippi?

Wildlife, Culture, and Commerce

Digging for mussels on the Mississippi

Adam Thiese of the DNR digging for mussels on the Mississippi

The Mississippi River is one of the defining physical features of North America. This 2,350-mile-long “Father of Waters” drains more than 1.2 million square miles and provides a home to more than 400 wildlife species.

Even while shaping the evolution of America’s history, culture, and economy, this nationally significant transportation artery has served society on a massive scale. In the 1800s, the river carried entire forests of white pine logs downstream to lumber-hungry settlements. About the same time, dozens of shell button-making plants dredged tens of thousands of pounds of mussels from the river’s bottom.

The Modern Mississippi: Economic Gains and Ecological Costs

Today the river transports more than a million metric tons of cargo each year, serving as a principal link between Midwestern farms and international grain markets. This use merges with a host of competing uses—from ensuring fresh water for industry and municipalities, to providing habitat for hundreds of non-human species.

These many uses have multiplied both economic gains and ecological costs. For example, sediments washed from agricultural land are clogging the river’s backwaters and destroying fish spawning grounds. These sediments and pollutants are harmful to the river’s mussels—sensitive filter feeders that shut down when waters are too turbulent and sediments are too heavy. And agricultural runoff from the Corn Belt contributes dramatically to an oxygen-poor “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. All these problems are hurting the river basin’s natural biodiversity and health.

Linking Science and Policy

An integrated watershed approach is key to linking science and policy for the Mississippi River. Any one investigator or single discipline can study only one facet of these complex dilemmas. LACMRERS provides the opportunity for multidisciplinary collaborations on the complex problems faced by the Mississippi. Through these collaborations, researchers can begin to understand large river systems more generally.

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Last modified on June 23rd, 2015
Posted on June 2nd, 2010

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