news-category: Academics

Gardner-Webb Professor and Student Present Papers at International Meeting

Timothy Campbell presents at Cambridge.
Timothy Campbell presents his research at Cambridge.

Dr. David Campbell and his Son, Timothy, Attend Conference on Bivalved Mollusks at England’s Cambridge University

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—While exploring the Broad River, students at Gardner-Webb University might observe what looks like a rock, but it’s really a bivalved freshwater mussel or mollusk, points out Dr. David Campbell, associate professor of paleontology and chair of the Department of Natural Sciences. Clams and oysters are examples of bivalved mollusks, and he has studied various species of them since he was a senior in high school (35 years). His son, Timothy, a first-year Gardner-Webb student, is carrying on the tradition, and recently father and son presented their research at the international meeting on bivalves at Cambridge University in England.

A photo collage featuring Cambridge on the left and bivalves on the right.
Gardner-Webb Professor Dr. David Campbell and his son, Timothy, a GWU student, presented their research at the international Bivalve Conference at Cambridge, left. At right is a slide from Timothy’s research on Bivalves of the Waccamaw Formation.

Through his years of research, David has become respected in the field and is considered an expert on bivalves. He has presented at four of the five international bivalve meetings. He was too young to present at the first one in London in 1977. The others were in Drumheller (1995), Cambridge (1999) and Barcelona (2006).

David’s interest in the invertebrates came from his parents, who did their graduate work researching fossil mollusks. He likes studying them because of their abundance in nature and many different species.

He also mentioned that several of them are endangered or at risk. Additionally, scientists have studied mollusks for practical applications, like for use in pharmaceuticals.

Around 100 researchers from around the world attended the meeting at Cambridge. Timothy presented on the “Underdocumented Micros and the End of Carolinian Endemism: Bivalves of the Waccamaw Formation.” He examined the diversity of fossil clams from this formation, a particular layer from early Ice Age times in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina.

Especially by looking carefully at the smaller fossils, Timothy found about 150 species of bivalves not previously reported from the formation. Over 50 of them are new species, never noticed before by anyone, and five are new genera. Other species were not known to be living at that time. The high diversity is similar to that found in tropical areas today, but the species are not tropical. It seems to have been a warm temperate fauna, with many species going extinct as the Ice Age became more severe.

Not only did Timothy enjoy presenting at the meeting, he also appreciated the opportunity to meet and interact with the other researchers and ask them about their work. David added that the meetings do provide networking and the opportunity to build relationships. He stays up-to-date on the latest research and also learns new ideas for the classroom and potential research projects.

Dr. David Campbell and his class study specimens found at the Broad River Greenway.

David’s presentation for the meeting analyzed the mitochondrial DNA from the freshwater mussels, Unionoida. He worked on the study with Charles Lydeard, a professor at Morehead State University in Kentucky. “I reviewed the history (just over 25 years) and commented on the future of studying mitochondrial DNA in freshwater mussels,” David shared. “Freshwater mussels occur around the world and are important filterers of water, as well as being a source of pearls and mother of pearl. But they are highly imperiled, with many species extinct or endangered.”

He noted that the DNA data provides a helpful tool for identification and for understanding their biology. “Mitochondria are organelles that provide energy for the cell,” David explained. “They have their own DNA, which is relatively easy to analyze and compare. New technologies are enabling better data and new applications, such as being able to analyze DNA floating in the water. About two-thirds of the species have some DNA data available. Over 300 species are found in the southeastern U.S., the highest diversity anywhere in the world.”

Their papers will be published in a special volume from the meeting.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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