Freshwater mussels facing extinction could potentially be saved through the use of 3D technologies.

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Saving Endangered Species: The Power of 3D Technology

Preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered animals is a significant challenge for biologists worldwide. While we often hear about iconic species like black rhinos, mountain gorillas, and orangutans, there are over 41,000 species at risk of extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Some of these endangered species are closer to home, with over 1,000 species endangered or threatened in the USA alone.

In a collaborative effort, scientists and imaging specialists from Florida Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History are using cutting-edge 3D technologies to help save freshwater mussels. Although often overlooked, freshwater mussels are one of the world’s most endangered species. John Pfeiffer, curator of bivalves at the Smithsonian Institution, explains that many of these mussels are at risk of extinction in the US, with approximately one-third protected under the Endangered Species Act and another 30 species believed to have gone extinct recently.

Freshwater mussels play a vital role in the health of streams and rivers. Their unique filtration abilities remove algae, excess nutrients, and heavy metals from their surroundings while stabilizing streambeds with dense colonies. If these mussels were to go extinct, the consequences for their ecosystems would be catastrophic.

To address this urgent issue, the use of 3D technologies in the preservation of freshwater mussels will serve a dual purpose. Firstly, it aims to raise awareness through education. A critical aspect of protecting any species is ensuring that the general public and biologists working to protect them are aware of their existence. The National Conservation Training Center plans to create 3D prints of mussel shells to enhance the Freshwater Mussel Identification course available to conservation professionals and citizens across the country.

This educational aspect of the project is essential because declining mussel populations make it increasingly challenging to find reference specimens for critical research. However, physical 3D prints are not the only way these endangered species will be preserved. The project also involves creating digital models using photogrammetry, which will contribute to building a comprehensive digital 3D library. Pfeiffer explains that due to the rarity and delicacy of some specimens, it is nearly impossible to have a reference collection to aid in training. A digital 3D library will solve this issue by making all U.S. mussel species easily accessible.

Photogrammetry, a process that stitches together multiple photographs of a single specimen, has been successfully used in cultural heritage studies to promote access to important monuments and artifacts. Now, this technology is being adapted to preserve freshwater mussels. The Florida Museum, equipped with one of the fastest and most efficient photogrammetry rigs, has modified it to capture images from multiple angles simultaneously. The specimens are placed on an automated turntable inside a lightbox, and photographs are taken at programmed intervals during the rotation. This process allows for a full 360-degree coverage, providing a comprehensive digital representation of the mussels.

Matthew Patterson, a course leader with the National Conservation Training Center, emphasizes the excitement surrounding the project. This initiative not only trains field biologists but also educates the public on how to identify all the freshwater mussel species native to the United States, including the almost 100 threatened species.

Preserving our planet’s biodiversity is crucial, and finding innovative solutions to protect endangered species is a pressing challenge. Through the utilization of 3D technology, scientists and researchers are taking significant steps in the conservation of freshwater mussels. With enhanced education and the creation of comprehensive digital libraries, we can strive to save these invaluable species and ensure the health and balance of our ecosystems for future generations.

Title: “Revolutionary Technological Solutions Aimed at Preserving Freshwater Mussels”


In a world where the rapid decline of biodiversity threatens the delicate balance of ecosystems, it is imperative that we employ innovative measures to safeguard endangered species. One such species facing a perilous future is the freshwater mussel. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act in 2023, a groundbreaking solution has emerged—3D technologies. This blog post delves into the remarkable efforts being made to rescue these endangered creatures and highlights the pivotal role that 3D technologies play in their preservation.

The Press Release and Digital Library:

To gain a comprehensive understanding of these groundbreaking techniques, one can peruse the recently released press release or access the digital library. The press release provides detailed insights into the revolutionary efforts being made to save freshwater mussels. It highlights the collaboration between environmental organizations, research institutions, and 3D printing experts to develop practical solutions. Meanwhile, the digital library acts as a comprehensive resource, offering in-depth information on the various approaches being explored to protect these endangered mollusks.

Using 3D Technologies to Aid in Preservation:

As the world embraces technological advancements, it becomes apparent that their application extends far beyond conventional industries. 3D technologies, for instance, have proved invaluable in preserving the fragile freshwater mussel populations. By harnessing the power of additive manufacturing, researchers and biologists are creating artificial habitats to foster the growth and survival of these endangered species.

The Impact and Rationale:

The implementation of 3D technologies in preserving freshwater mussels brings forth several significant benefits. Firstly, by replicating natural habitats through 3D-printed structures, scientists are mitigating the impact of habitat loss caused by environmental degradation. Secondly, these artificial habitats provide a safe haven for the endangered mussels, offering protection from predators and adverse ecosystem changes. Furthermore, leveraging 3D technologies ensures a more efficient and cost-effective approach to conservation efforts, making it feasible for a wider range of organizations to participate actively in the preservation process.

Public Opinion and Engagement:

As with any groundbreaking conservation initiative, public opinion and engagement are crucial catalysts for success. We encourage you to share your thoughts and insights on the use of 3D technologies to save freshwater mussels in the comment section below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages. Your active participation contributes to a collective effort to protect these extraordinary creatures and their habitats.

Stay Informed:

Remaining up-to-date with the latest developments in the world of 3D technologies and conservation efforts is vital. Sign up for our free weekly Newsletter to receive the most recent 3D printing news delivered straight to your inbox. Additionally, explore our YouTube channel, where you can find engaging videos shedding light on this transformative field.


The dwindling populations of freshwater mussels serve as a stark reminder of the urgent actions required to preserve our planet’s biodiversity. Thankfully, the integration of 3D technologies has emerged as a beacon of hope, revolutionizing conservation efforts. By delineating the endeavors undertaken to save these endangered mollusks, this blog post highlights the indelible impact of innovative approaches and emphasizes the collective responsibility we bear in protecting our environment for generations to come.

Cover Photo Credits:

Ryan Hagerty, U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service, CC0

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