Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes
1996 Report of Region 4 - South-Central
Jim Williams of the National Biological Survey in Gainesville, Florida continues to work on the description of Percina (Alvordius) sp. along with William Smith-Vaniz; it appears that this is a complex of several species. Jim is also describing, along with Rick Mayden at the University of Alabama, a new species of Cottus confined to the Tallapoosa River above the Fall Line in Alabama and Georgia.
Noel Burkhead, also at NBS in Gainesville, reports that the organization American Rivers has listed the Etowah River as one of the ten most imperiled rivers in the United States. This infamous rating was based largely on a manuscript by Noel, Steve Walsh, Jim Williams, and Bud Freeman, which outlines the severe pressure the Etowah is under. This habitat deterioration has resulted in over a dozen species of fishes and almost all of the mussel fauna becoming extirpated. The Etowah also contains more endemic endangered species than any other system in the U.S.
Mary Freeman of NBS is studying the effect of regulated flows on fish assemblages in the Tallapoosa River below Harris Dam. She is also nearing completion (this summer) of a broad scale measure of stream habitat quality, which will be used in the Tri-State Comprehensive Basin-Wide Management Plan. The NBS office at Auburn, Alabama was officially closed in February, and Mary will relocate to Athens, Georgia in June.
Jan Hoover at the Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi reports that he and Jack Killgore are describing faunas and identifying physical variables associated with abundance and reproduction of individual species in the Yazoo and Big Sunflower rivers in Mississippi. They are also studying the biology of paddlefish in the Big Sunflower River along with Steven George, a student at Northeast Louisiana University. Sherry Harrel, a student at the University of Kansas, is studying fish foraging behavior in a tributary of Bayou Pierre, Mississippi. Additionally, Jan has just finished a study on paddlefish rostrum morphology, and is beginning a morphological study on shovelnose sturgeon to examine variation within a population in the Mississippi River.
Bob Cashner at University of New Orleans reports that graduate student Chris Schieble is working on life history aspects of Ambloplites ariommus, the shadow bass. Bob and another student, Jeff Stewart, are conducting a comprehensive survey of the Bogue Chitto River (Pearl River) in Mississippi and Louisiana. Past surveys by students at Northeast Louisiana University 10 and 20 years ago and by Bob on a single creek within the system (yearly, for 18 years) provides baseline data for examining changes in fish community structure. Lastly, Bob is examining the disappearance of Cyprinella ariommus, the blacktail shiner, from Bayou LaCombe (Lake Pontchartrain), which was the predominant fish species in a early 1970's survey of the Bayou by a Tulane student. UNO surveys in 1989-90 and 1995-96 have not produced a single specimen.
Hank Bart at Tulane University is writing the final report on a status survey of Percina aurora, the pearl darter, in the Pascagoula River Drainage, funded by the Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences. Sampling during 1995 at 19 historic and 11 new sites did not produce a single specimen. The last specimens taken in the drainage were by students at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1994. Hank and others believes that P. aurora is likely extirpated from the Pearl River, the only other drainage this species is known to occur within. Since most of the records from the Pascagoula are from the late 1980's and early 90's, it still likely survives, but is clearly very rare. Hank also plans status surveys of Percina brevicauda, the coal darter, and the undescribed rush darter, both in the Mobile Basin in Alabama. Along with his students, Hank is continuing to uncover new distributional records for eastern Gulf Slope fishes. The latest is Etheostoma whipplei, the redfin darter, in the Apalachicola River Drainage, which will be the subject of a future note in the SFC PROCEEDINGS.
Mark Peterson at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi has recently started a status survey of Cycleptus elongatus, the blue sucker, in the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers in Mississippi. Mark is also starting to look at the use of marsh habitat by larval fishes and invertebrates in Biloxi Bay, and how the destruction of this habitat affects the success of these organisms. He has a paper ready to go on the distribution, habitat requirements, and reproduction of Enneacanthus gloriosus, the bluespotted sunfish, in Mississippi. Lastly Mark reports that Larry Nicholson has received funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife to study striped bass restoration in Gulf coast waters, which focuses on the performance of the Gulf versus the Atlantic race of stripers.
Stuart Poss at the museum at the Gulf Coast Lab, along with David Besancon and Meg O'Connell, are currently compiling a database to determine if endangered Gulf of Mexico fishes show a decline in numbers through museum records. If they do, then similar declines in other species suggests comparable imperilment. They are also amassing historic and present photos of Gulf coast habitats (including aerial photos) to assess habitat decline. Stuart is continuing to study scorpionfishes, and has been using three dimensional imagery to look at skull morphology.
Steve Ross at the University of Southern Mississippi reports that his book on inland fishes of Mississippi should be sent off to University Press of Mississippi this spring. He is also starting a distributional study of Leptolucania ommata, the pygmy killifish, in Mississippi. Todd Slack is completing his dissertation on floodplain-stream interactions in a small tributary of Black Creek, Pascagoula Drainage. Martin O'Connell is pursuing his dissertation research on use of floodplains by fishes, focusing on foraging benefits and predation risk. Lastly, Brett Albanese is studying the life history of Pteronotropis signipinnis, the flagfin shiner.
Carol Johnson at the U.S. Forest Service Hydrology Lab in Oxford, Mississippi reports that she and Charles Knight of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science have completed their life history and behavioral ecology study of Pteronotropis welaka, the bluenose shiner. Carol is still working on sound production in stream fishes, especially Cyprinella and their hybrids. She is also looking at fish community structure in several incised streams. Mel Warren and Wendell Haag continue to examine mussel and fish community structure in the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama.
Malcolm Pierson of Alabama Power Company in Birmingham reports that he and Terri L. Ballard have a soon-to-be published paper on the fishes of the Little River Drainage. This study was Terri's master's research at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. Ed Tyberghein and colleagues are completing the final year of a three year biotelemetry study in the Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Alabama rivers on adult paddlefish. Weekly monitoring indicate that most paddlefish move upstream into the Tallapoosa River to spawn.
Randy Haddock of the Cahaba River Society in Birmingham is currently circulating among various agencies a draft of the Cahaba River Protection Plan, which was prepared along with The Nature Conservancy. This plan involves educating the public about the problems in the watershed, and presents possible solutions to these problems. An agreement with Jefferson County to implement watershed protection via creating greenways along the Cahaba and Black Warrior rivers may not happen due to lack of cooperation from the county. This may force the Society to go back to court and force the county into implementing these programs. Lastly, the Society is working with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Region 4 of EPA on a Cahaba River Basin Management Plan, which would consolidate issuance of permits, thus allowing these agencies to assess non-point pollution in the Basin.
Scott Mettee and colleagues at the Geological Survey of Alabama in Tuscaloosa have completed status surveys on Alosa alabamae, the Alabama shad, and Cyprinella callitaenia, the bluestripe shiner, and are continuing studies on Cycleptus elongatus, the blue sucker, and Noturus munitus, the frecklebelly madtom, in the Mobile Basin, and on Tennessee River fishes. They are also starting a survey of mussels in the Tennessee, Alabama, and lower Tombigbee rivers, as well as a fairly large biological water study of the lower Cahaba River. Scott is hopeful that the state fish book for Alabama will be out near the end of this year.
Bob Stiles at Samford University in Birmingham has been studying the courting behaviors of male darters in the subgenera Etheostoma and Ulocentra. Bob also reports that while snorkeling in the Little Cahaba River at Bulldog Bend, he has seen many young Percina aurolineata, the goldline darter, more than in recent years. Mike Howell continues to study the masculinization of Gambusia, and is looking at variation (including chromosomes) in Cyprinella venusta, the blacktail shiner, from the Cahaba River.
Chuck Lydeard at the University of Alabama continues to study the molecular systematics and conservation genetics of freshwater mussels and snails in the southeast. Herb Boschung and Rick Mayden will soon be submitting to a publisher a manuscript on their state fish book for Alabama. Rick is continuing status studies of Etheostoma ditrema, the Coldwater darter, E. chermocki, the vermilion darter, and Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni, the Alabama cavefish, as well as a study on the effects of malathion on an upper Tombigbee River tributary.
Frank Parauka at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Panama City, Florida reports that his office has just received fund for an outreach program - Watchable Wildlife. In a joint effort with state agencies and state chapters of the Wildlife Federation, signs will be erected at boat launches on rivers along the Gulf coast that harbor Gulf sturgeon, informing readers on basic life history traits. Frank also reports that the Gulf sturgeon recovery plan has been finalized, which was coordinated by Lorna Patrick. Additionally, a graduate student at North Carolina State, DeWayne Fox, has been working with the Service on capturing Gulf sturgeon in Choctawhatchee Bay and using telemetry to locate spawning beds. Once located, eggs will hopefully be found in the artificial spawning substrate, thus validating spawning sites.
Carl Couret at the Service's office in Daphne, Alabama reports the staff has completed a Biological Opinion on the proposed Bevill Reservoir in Fayette County, Alabama, which addresses the minimum flows and IBI monitoring necessary to protect two federally listed mussels in the North River. Another opinion is nearing completion on the effects of Alabama's water quality standards on federally listed aquatic species for EPA's southeast regional office; this precedent-setting effort will affect how EPA approves water quality standards in other southeastern states.
Ron Larson at the Service's office in Jackson, Mississippi is reviewing the status of southern walleye, which is no confined to five small populations in the Mobile Basin. He is also working with Jefferson County, Alabama in establishing a watershed management program for Turkey Creek, tributary to Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. Turk Creek contains the federally endangered Etheostoma nuchale, the watercress darter, one of two know populations of the undescribed Etheostoma sp. c.f. parvipinne, the rush darter, and the only population of Etheostoma chermocki, the vermilion darter. Ron is also involved in modifying construction of weir dams in Bayou Pierre, Mississippi, which may adversely affect the threatened Etheostoma rubrum, the bayou darter.
Lastly, I would like to report on Scaphirhynchus suttkusi, the Alabama sturgeon, and the efforts to protect this vanishing species. As a reminder of past events, in December 1994 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew the listing of the Alabama sturgeon, citing that it was either extinct or too rare to protect, even though an individual was captured in the Alabama River below Claiborne Lock and Dam in December 1993. On 18 April 1995 a second Alabama sturgeon was caught by a fisherman on a weighted trotline, also below Claiborne. This fish was radio-tagged and followed by personnel from the Panama City FWS office, who also managed to capture a third sturgeon on 19 May 1995 in a gill net, again below Claiborne Lock and Dam. Shortly after these discoveries, Rick Mayden and I submitted our revised manuscript on the systematics, taxonomy, and conservation status of the Alabama sturgeon, which will be published in Copeia 1996(2).
Although these events would lead one to conclude that the FWS would reverse their decision, this has not happened due in part to a moratorium being placed on listing species. Furthermore, a House resolution eliminating any funding toward searching for additional Alabama sturgeon was passed by Congress as a rider to another unrelated bill. This past winter, the Corps of Engineers (Mobile District) has proposed a new lock and dam about 40 miles downstream from Claiborne, which would impound the area where these three sturgeon have recently been captured. And lastly, business coalitions in Alabama continue to strongly oppose the scientific validity of this species. Currently, the future looks rather bleak for this endangered species!