Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes


2001 Report of Region 2 - Southeast
Conservation Notes
In Chattanooga last January (2001), a new conservation entity committed to halting the accelerated decline of imperiled southeastern freshwater fishes was quietly formed. The meeting was the second of two intense workshops hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the explicit goal of conserving and recovering southeastern imperiled fishes. The 60+ attendees, representing the business sector, conservation groups, governments (state and federal agencies), and academia participated in both workshops. The first workshop (held in October 1999) produced a remarkable consensus plan (*see below). Participants in the January meeting focused on implementing the plan and unanimously agreed to create a new (as of yet unnamed) conservation entity. A volunteer Steering Committee was formed and charged with creating a new, non-profit organization, obtaining initial funding, identifying a director, and coining an appropriate name. Wendy Smith, World Wildlife Fund, was nominated as is the committee chair based on her experience with successful conservation groups. Wendy may be contacted at: southernrivers@worldnet.att.net. Other Steering Committee members are: George Benz (Tennessee Aquarium), Kelly Bibb (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Dick Biggins (USFWS), Jeff Duncan (National Park Service), Mark Hughes (International Paper), Rick Mayden (St. Louis University), Stephen Ross (University of Southern Mississippi), Bobby Reed (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries), David Sligh (American Rivers), Brian Wagner (Arkansas Fish and Game Commission), Stephen Walsh (USGS), and Chris Williams (World Wildlife Fund).

The new organization differs from the Southeastern Fishes Council in that it focuses on implementing and pursuing conservation actions and ultimately recovery. The group will be modeled after non-profit conservation groups such as WWF or TNC. The SFC formally offered to serve as a host for the new group. It was determined, however, that the new group would likely function better as an independent entity, but would clearly benefit from strong ties to professional, academic societies such as the SFC, American Fisheries Society, and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Members of the SFC will continue to make significant contributions to the new group. A name for the group, the "Southeastern Fish Conservancy," abbreviated SEFC, is hereby tendered for consideration.

The portent of this group and its future importance to conservation are evidenced by the affiliations of steering committee members: state governments, federal government, academia, conservation groups, and the private sector. The success of the group absolutely depends on its egalitarian composition. Additional members of the business community are welcome (and needed), as well as members of county commissions and city councils. Altogether strange bedfellows indeed, but like politics, many important conservation decisions and actions are local. The latter point is emphasized when considering the future environmental impacts of southeastern metropolises such as Atlanta. Northward growth of metropolitan Atlanta already impinges the upper Coosa Rivers system, and could engulf it in 50 years. Indeed, the fringes of Atlanta and Chattanooga may coalesce in the heart of persisting diversity and remarkable endemism. Beyond obvious, potentially negative effects of urbanization, e.g., loss of arable land, water supply impoundments, polluted runoff, etc., loom fundamental transformations of the landscape, a process governed by local zoning decisions.

Resolving conservation conflicts at local levels is the critical basis underlying successes of many river conservation groups. Modern conservation and recovery efforts must shun the largely ineffective adversarial approach. Contemporary conservation requires diverse partners vested in the mutual belief that aquatic biodiversity can be preserved amongst burgeoning urbanism. Moreover, it is need right now. Fortunately, at the heart of every conservation enterprise are the insuperable, wide-eyed faithful with iican dola attitudes and specifically, the ethical grit to make a difference.

The consensus document: "Strategic Plan for the Conservation and Recovery of Southeastern Imperiled Fishes" may be viewed at this website: http://www.sherpaguides.com/southeast/aquatic_fauna/strategy/index.html.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has produced an outstanding videotape on the conservation and recovery efforts underway for the robust redhorse. The video presents a balanced, informative narrative covering the rediscovery of the species to current recovery efforts for this impressive sucker. Emphasis is placed on the cooperative nature of activities between the federal government, states, and the private sector under the aegis of the Robust Redhorse Conservation Committee (RRCC). The USFWS agreed not to list the species if the members of the RRCC engaged in significant, cooperative efforts to conserve and recover the species. Although these conservation efforts are iroutsidelo the authority of the Endangered Species Act, the point is made that without the ESA, cooperators would not have been motivated to undertake conservation activities. The robust redhorse story is a model of modern conservation cooperation, and the videotape merits accolades for clearly telling the story. Gary Mefee, Managing Editor for the journal Conservation Biology, recently reviewed the videotape and gave it high marks for quality and content. The tape is certainly worth viewing, especially the scenes of explosive spawning bouts in gravel shallows. As Mefee exclaimed: "It is really a big sucker!" Katheryn Kohm, the editor of the relatively new journal, Conservation Biology in Practice, an offshoot of CB dedicated to iobridging the gap between conservation science, practice, and policy,l, is interested in the case of the robust redhorse and the work of the RRCC. The robust redhorse was considered likely extirpated in the Peedee River until its recent capture. Although Cope described it from the Peedee River, the only other itrecentld material was from the 1960s, exact site unknown. Additional information and links are found at: http://www.robustredhorse.com/.

Affecting Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, the Tri-State Water Project at times seems lukewarm or is a topic of heated concern. The project proposes interbasin transfer of water from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint rivers (ACF) to the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa rivers (ACT), to ensure the future water supply for Atlanta (and some other unclear benefits). The concern of the downstream states, Alabama and Florida, are whether enough water will remain to support natural resources and future growth demands. The agreements, or Tri-State compacts, are supposed establish mutually-agreed water allocation formulas, a goal that seems elusive. Among the three states, the city-state of Atlanta appears to be the winner, having insured its future water supply. It is evident that we do not really understand the breadth or severity of potential biological impacts. One strategy is to request the maximum flows possible for river sections that harbor listed species. However, this allocation will result in low system variability. How that will affect the long-term fitness of biota is unknown. Of all the considerations in the Tri-State compact, biological issues appear to have received the least attention. Most recently, Floridians have expressed concern regarding dewatering of the ACF and the resulting effects on Apalachicola Bay relative to the harvestable resources (primarily oysters, shrimp, crabs, and stripped mullet). Perhaps humans would ultimately benefit the most from allocations that promoted the greatest protection of biodiversity (seeing how we don't understand it all yet).

Research Notes

Chris Skelton, Georgia Natural Heritage Program, recently published his dissertation in Copeia, (2001, Number 1: p.118-128.) in which he describes the Walden Ridge endemic, Phoxinus saylori, a patronym honoring Charlie Saylor, a TVA biologist, who was among the first to collect the species. Having just earned his PhD, Chris eclipsed Sutt in publishing his dissertation by 50.5 years, a record that can only be broken by Reeve Bailey. By virtue of the extraordinarily restricted range, P. saylori bears monitoring relative to population changes. Chris is the first aquatic zoologist to join the heritage program in Georgia.

Mary and Bud Freeman continue their Freemanesque-pace in working on Georgia fishes, including a recent marathon effort to finish the description of the Halloween darter. After photographing Halloween darters last spring, I was impressed with its resemblance to P. palmaris (but not evides), a point Mary has made for some time. The Halloween darter is endemic to the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint rivers in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

Sutt (Royal D. Suttkus) and Scott (Maurice) Mettee published description of a new minnow with a limited distribution in the Choctawhatchee and Pea rivers, Notropis (Pteronotropis) merlini, with a diagnosis of the N. hypselopterus-complex: N. euryzonus, N. grandipinnis, N. hypselopterus, and N. merlini (Geological Survey of Alabama Bulletin 170, 2001). The monograph treats Gulf slope N. hypselopterus, sans peninsular Florida and southeast Atlantic slope, and constitutes publication of a portion of Sutt's 1951 dissertation. Considerable information is treated, including an entwined taxonomic history and synonymy, resurrection of P. grandipinnis (Jordan), and usual morphological diagnosis and description, distribution, and zoogeography. The authors present argument for retaining subgeneric status of Pteronotropis. Unfortunately, gratis reprints were few and are exhausted; cost of the bulletin is exorbitant ($9 or $11?)-bad news for students.

Dennis Haney and colleagues, Furman College, South Carolina, reports they are conducting an interdisciplinary examination of the Enoree and Saluda River watersheds. The goal is to examine the interrelationships between land use, water chemistry and hydrology, and the biota of the streams. The ultimate goal is to provide baseline data in these drainages. In the Enoree and Saluda rivers, over 160 sites have been sampled in the past two years, with some interesting findings, including the discovery that the northern hog sucker, Hypentelium nigricans is established in the Saluda.

Jan Hoover reports the Fish Team at the Waterways Experiment Station (WES) in Vicksburg, Mississippi, which studies the effects of flood control, navigation, and habitat restoration projects on fish communities, was active in Region II. Full-time team members include Jack Killgore, Jan Hoover, Phil Kirk, Steven George, and Bradley Lewis. Adjunct members are Mississippi commercial fisherman Bill Lancaster, Tennessee Valley Authority (retired) larval fish taxonomist Bobby Wallus, and University of Louisiana professor emeritus Neil Douglas. Last summer, WES team members and Angie Haggard (now an instructor at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, North Carolina) studied swimming performance of hatchery-reared juvenile Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) in a laboratory swim tunnel. The 45-60 mm TL gar were weak (and sometimes erratic) swimmers, but sustained prolonged and burst speeds were measured, and a model of swimming endurance is in the works. The shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum), is being studied at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Pectoral spines collected by contractors are sectioned and read at WES and a model is under development for Army management of the Ogeeche River population. Other military work in this region consists of the final analyses of faunal survey data collected at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Fishes were collected by seine, and larval and juvenile fishes and invertebrates were collected in floating light-traps. The objective is to characterize quantitative relationships between aquatic animals and habitat features in this portion of the Savannah River.

The USGS group in Gainesville has had an active year. Leo Nico is involved in multiple studies of nonindigenous fishes: 1) Genetic characterization of multiple Asian swamp eel introductions (with Tim Collins and Joel Trexler of Florida International University). 2) Evaluation of ecosystem level effects and control methods for Asian swamp eels (with Bill Loftus and John Curnutt of USGS). 3) The influence of hydrology on life-history parameters of common freshwater fishes from south Florida (with Bill Loftus and Jeff Herod of USGS). 4) Reproduction of Asian swamp eels (Family: Synbranchidae, Genus: Monopterus): Relationships between blood steroid levels, gonad condition, and reproductive phrenology in introduced populations (with Tim Gross and Jeff Herod of USGS). 5) Risk assessment of introduced black carp (Mylopharyngodon piceus) and Asian swamp eel (genus: Monopterus) (with Jim Williams and Jeff Herod of USGS). He also is working with others in documenting the distribution and ecology of other nonindigenous fishes found in Florida and other parts of the US (particular focus is on cichlids and South American catfishes).

It was recently determined that Gainesville, Florida is the capital of senescing ichthyologists. At this writing, there are 10 in this area, yielding an unheard of ratio of 1 per 20,000 ordinary people. If you are an ichthyologist and thinking about retiring, DON'T COME HERE. We don't need you. The police already watch us; our phones are tapped; we are followed; 68% have unusual feelings about minnows and clupeids. Most recently, the AARC revoked Carter Gilbert's and Walt Courtney's cards for getting "butt naked" on a roadside after collecting. Notice: this facility will not lend waders anymore to elder ichthyologists or out-of-towners.

Howard Jelks and Frank Jordan (Loyola University of New Orleans) continue their visual survey monitoring program of the endangered Etheostoma okaloosae, now in its sixth year. They have included additional sites, some of which correspond to the recently initiated monitoring of immature aquatic insects. This summer they plan to compare quantitative seining with visual survey techniques. A sediment study conducted by Howard and myself (effects on suspended sediment on the reproductive successes of tricolor shiners, C. trichroistia) will appear in the September issue of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. Carter Gilbert and Jim Williams continue the long term Florida fish book project. Steve Walsh and I are assisting Jim in completing the descriptions of the Percina sp. cf. macrocephala forms in the Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Black Warrior river systems. Additionally, Steve has received funding to survey for peripheral fishes (to Florida) in the Escambia River. Jim and Carter recently began revision of the Audubon Field Guide to the Fishes; this version omits marine mammals, which were curiously included in the first edition. However, why not have guides to the Mice and Minnows of Alabama, or darters, Dace, and Dugongs of Illinois? Steve Walsh, Howard Jelks, Jim Williams are among those spearheading a Suwannee River initiative, an effort to establish baseline data on one of the few un-impounded, large southeastern rivers. Given the increased interest in interbasin transfer as a solution to cities that have surpassed their immediate resources, the Suwannee River will only increase in attractiveness. Tampa has already considered such transfers.

We were fortunate to get USGS Species At Risk funding and support from the USFWS for survey work in the upper Coosa during summer 2000 for the study of putatively imperiled fishes. We made 148 focused collections in the area; these data should provide a comprehensive distributional snapshot of the study area. We discovered the introduced population of red shiners, Cyprinella lutrensis, in the upper Coosa River system has significantly spread since its discovery in the Etowah River in 1993. The insidious minnow had caused a hybrid swarm with the indigenous blacktail shiner, C. venusta stigmatura. Morphological investigation is underway of that hybrid and behavioral research (interactions among spawning adults) has been funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Most recently, Ryan Evans discovered C. lutrensis in Rock Creek (a Holly Creek tributary), the only remaining Conasauga River tributary still supporting a population of the threatened blue shiner, C. caerulea. More monitoring work will occur this summer for this nefarious exotic. There is legitimate concern it may threaten the largest population of blue shiners.

Note: I have endeavored to increase the contact list in Region II; anyone wishing to report research or conservation activities, or to have their name included on my email list, please contact me at noel_burkhead@usgs.gov.

Noel Burkhead