Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes


1998 Report of Region 4 - South Central
Bruce Thompson at Louisiana State University has described two more southeastern logperch, Percina suttkusi and P. kathae. He has finished a status report on Fundulus jenkinsi, and has recently received funding to look for the newly described and rapidly disappearing Percina aurora from the Pearl River Drainage. Bruce is also describing the nursery habitats of Paralichthys squamilentus, a poorly known estuarine/marine flatfish.

Bob Cashner at the University of New Orleans reports that he has funding for a study of the nekton of Lake Pontchartrain estuary, which began in 1996 and will continue at least through the Summer of 1998. Thanks to the generous assistance of Bruce Thompson (LSU) and Hank Bart (Tulane), Bob has more than 2,000 collections over a 45 year period from earlier intensive surveys on Lake Pontchartrain. Julian Humphries is managing this data-base. UNO has taken or has records for specimens of the Rio Grande cichlid, Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum, from four localities over 30 miles on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain; indications are that it has become established. Bob has two students working on pH tolerances of Notropis texanus and Cyprinella venusta to attempt to better understand the apparent disappearance of C. venusta from Bayou Lacombe, a tributary to Lake Pontchartrain. In 1975, the blacktail shiner was the numerically most abundant species in the system. A study by Mike Farabee in 1988-89 revealed that the species was no longer present. Surveys every spring from 1991 to the present have not yielded a single specimen. Jeff Stewart has completed his study on changes in fish fauna of the Bogue Chitto River (Pearl River Drainage) over a 20 year period, and is writing his thesis. He has accepted a position as Collection Manager of the fish collection at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Chris Schieble has also finished his project on life history aspects of the shadow bass, Ambloplites ariommus, in Louisiana and Mississippi, and is writing his thesis. He is currently serving as the Field Technician for the UNO Lake Pontchartrain Ecosystem Project.

Jan Hoover at the Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi reports that several studies on paddlefish and sturgeons in the lower Mississippi River Basin are nearing completion. Jack Killgore, working with commercial fisherman William Lancaster, is describing habitat utilization and preferences of sturgeons in the genus Scaphirhynchus. Jan Hoover and Steven George are studying morphometric characters of shovelnose and pallid sturgeons, S. platorynchus and S. albus. They found that allometric growth of several anatomical structures is significant and may influence field identifications. Jan and Steven have also documented variation in rostrum morphology of paddlefish. Jack Killgore, with Jim Morrow and Phil Kirk, completed a demographic study of shovelnose sturgeon in which age, growth, and mortality data are represented. Reid Adams, who previously determined critical swimming speeds of adult shovelnose sturgeon, is now quantifying sustained, prolonged, and burst speeds of juvenile pallid sturgeon (spawned at Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery). Specimens from these projects have been donated to several museums and broodstock to Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery. The Waterways Experiment Station Fish Team is also evaluating effects of low flows on fish assemblages of the Big Sunflower River and of levee construction on borrow pit communities adjacent to the Mississippi River.

Chris Taylor at Mississippi State University in Starkville has collected fishes from 40 sites throughout the Luxapalila Creek System (Tombigbee River Drainage). He was able to reconstruct historical pre-Tennessee/Tombigbee Waterway fish assemblages for 24 of these sites. Results indicate that the assemblage structure of sites on smaller streams has changed more than those on larger streams, and smaller streams have gained species while larger streams have lost diversity.

Melvin Warren and Wendell Haag at the US Forest Service Hydrology Lab in Oxford, Mississippi, have been examining headwater mussel communities restricted to a few watersheds in the Mobile Basin. These communities are separated by long stream reaches unsuitable for adult mussels and/or host fishes. Assessment of the genetic structure of these isolated populations is needed to evaluate their potential long-term viability. This information is vital in assessing and reshaping current management plans.

Mark Peterson at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi is working on a manuscript resulting from his research on Cycleptus elongatus from the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers. Stuart Poss, also at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, reports the creation of a new web site (http://www.ims.usm.edu/musweb/endanger.html) of potentially endangered fish species, funded by the US Gulf of Mexico Program (USGOMP). This work is the result of collective efforts of numerous museums with holdings of fishes from the Gulf of Mexico and nearby coastal drainages. This web site is currently being expanded to include non-indigenous species, which is again being supported in part by USGOMP.

Elise Irwin at the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Auburn University and Mary Freeman at the US Geological Survey Biological Resources Division at the University of Georgia, Athens are initiating a five-year study to quantify littoral fish abundance and assemblage dynamics on sand and gravel bars in the lower Alabama River. First-year samples revealed over 30 fish species using bars, and an overwhelmingly large nighttime aggregation of cyprinids and juvenile channel catfish. Long-term investigations seek to relate fish abundances to differences in bar habitats. Elise and graduate student Allyse Ferrara are investigating life history and population characteristics of Lepisosteus osseus below Jordan Dam on the Coosa River. Elise and another student, Glenn Kowalski, are studying the distribution of endemic and threatened aquatic fauna in the upper Tallapoosa River, including Etheostoma tallapoosae and Cottus sp. cf. C. bairdi.

Carol Johnston has moved from Oxford to the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures at Auburn University. She will be teaching an ichthyology course and continuing her research on sound production in cyprinids and percids, movement and microhabitat studies of the federally Threatened Cyprinella caerulea, and concluding a study of movement of stream fishes in the Ouachitas. Carol will also be starting a project with the federally Threatened Cottus pygmaeus.

Scott Mettee of the Geological Survey of Alabama in Tuscaloosa reports that the Biological Resources Section completed Section 6 status surveys on Cycleptus elongatus in the Alabama River, Noturus munitus in Alabama, mussels and fishes in the Tennessee River Drainage, and land use as related to biodiversity in Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. The Survey has published on a biological/water-quality study for the lower Cahaba River system and a ground-water project in relation to the Alabama cave shrimp. Scott's section has initiated a two-year fish bioassessment study in the Tennessee River Drainage with TVA and continues to assist Alabama Game and Fish in sampling efforts for Scaphirhynchus suttkusi. Staff recently completed a biological/water quality study investigating the impacts of various types of forest clearcuts and road crossings on stream ecosystems, and they assisted Alabama Department of Environmental Management in collecting over 30 fish samples in the Black Warrior River System to develop IBI metrics for streams in the area. They have also been involved in three 319 non-point pollution studies which included fish and benthic invertebrate collections and habitat delineations. Scott reports that work will continue on Section 6 surveys, fish bioassessments with TVA, Alabama sturgeon sampling, and ongoing 319 program efforts. He will also initiate biological sampling in the Choctawhatchee River System. Lastly, Scott would like to invite all SFC members to visit and use the Geological Survey of Alabama fish collection, which has new shelving to accommodate samples collected and processed over the last five years. He plans to put digital distribution maps and fish and habitat photographs on the Survey's home page. He can be contacted via email at smettee@ogb.gsa.tuscaloosa.al.us or phone (205)349-2852 for more information.

Ken Marion and Robert Angus at University of Alabama-Birmingham have completed a 1995-96 bioassessment study of the upper Cahaba River. Numerous habitat, ichthyofaunal, and benthic macroinvertebrate assessments were used to examine the effects of urbanization on the habitat quality and fish assemblages. Habitat assessment scores tended to decrease from the headwaters to below Birmingham, primarily due to siltation. Species of cyprinids and percids which are sensitive to anthropogenic disturbances are becoming less abundant in the system, and macroinvertebrate population assemblages decline downstream of urbanization. Even with these degraded habitats, the upper Cahaba River is still in reasonably good shape. Dr. Angus, along with W. Mike Howell of Samford University, recently received an EPA grant to study the effects of environmental hormone disruptors on fishes. Gambusia affinis will be used as a model to screen environmental pollutants for their endocrine disrupting capacity.

Bob Stiles at Samford University continues his study on the population size and basic biology of Cottus pygmaeus in Coldwater Spring. Preliminary results indicate larger populations of both C. pygmaeus and Etheostoma ditrema than had previously been suspected. Bob Stiles and Paul Blanchard began a study last fall on water quality parameters of the Cahaba River that could impact on the possible reintroduction of Cyprinella caerulea. Dr. Blanchard is also examining water quality parameters in Turkey Creek (Locust Fork of Black Warrior River), the only known localities of Etheostoma chermocki. Both of these water quality projects will employ integration of GIS tools and spatial modeling.

Malcolm Pierson of the Alabama Power Company in Birmingham has begun a resurvey of stream habitat historically inhabited by Cyprinella caerulea. Initial sampling in Little River and upper Choccolocco Creek (both Coosa River Drainage) has revealed good, reproducing populations, but no range extensions. Malcolm has concluded a study on fish collections from below Jordan Dam on the Coosa River from 1992-96. A total of 67 species from 18 families was documented, with numbers of fluvial specialists and dependants generally increasing since the implementation of a continuous minimum flow in 1990. Numbers of habitat generalists have either decreased or remained stable. Overall, there has been an obvious improvement in microhabitat conditions since continuous minimum flow was initiated.

Bud Freeman at the University of Georgia's Institute of Ecology in Athens plans on conducting surveys in the Oostanaula River targeting Acipenser fulvescens. It appears that several historic records from this area of the Coosa River are valid, although no voucher specimens exist. A recent information-seeking campaign by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has uncovered two additional pieces of photographic evidence from 1962 and 1980, further supporting the existence of the lake sturgeon in the Coosa River Drainage.

Hank Bart at Tulane University reports that he, along with students Kyle Piller and Jason Tipton, have discovered the only known breeding area for the pearl darter Percina aurora. They found eight breeding males with running milt in the Leaf River (Pascagoula River Drainage) in May 1997. These pearl darters were in a shallow, firm gravel riffle at mid channel. No females were collected in spawning condition on the riffle and no spawning was observed while snorkeling, though water conditions were somewhat turbid. The species was collected in three other parts of the Pascagoula Basin during 1996-1997, all within the Leaf River. Status work is continuing and the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the species. Hank is finishing the taxonomic description of the rush darter, Etheostoma sp. cf. parvipinne, and has proposed to start a status survey after completing the description. He has been unable to collect the species in two of the three known areas of occurrence (Jefferson and Etowah counties, Alabama) and wants to look for other populations. Hank is working with The Nature Conservancy in acquiring a parcel of land in Pinson, Alabama that includes Penny's Spring, where the rush darter has been taken. This spring is also home to an introduced population of Etheostoma nuchale. With proper management, the spring may serve as a refuge for both darter species. Lastly, Hank is planning to conduct a status survey of the coal darter, Percina brevicauda, in 1998.

Carl Couret at the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Daphne, Alabama, reports on the status of the Tri-State Water Management Plan, which involves water allocation disputes between Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River (ACT) and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River (ACF) basins. The Service's concerns in these basins include 28 federal protected species and six federal candidate freshwater species, three anadromous fish species, 63 aquatic species endemic to these basins, and five National Refuges, Hatcheries, and Areas. Compact Agreements between states were signed in November 1997 which established the ACT and ACF river basin commissions. These commissions direct the states to develop a consensus allocation formula for each basin by 31 December 1998. These formulae are to equitably apportion surface waters such that water quality, biodiversity, and ecology are protected. The Service and other federal agencies are assisting the Corps in developing their draft EIS's for each basin, which will be the Corps input into the federal commissioners' decision on water allocation formulae. There is an opportunity through these formulae to protect and/or restore ecological integrity, biodiversity, and water quality by (1) conserving and possibly restoring natural flow regimes in remaining riverine reaches, (2) identifying minimum flow levels in these riverine reaches, (3) accurately assessing potential impacts, and (4) performing aquatic monitoring studies. Equal consideration should be given to the modification of operation rules for existing dams, establishment of instream flows, and constraints on consumptive use. The ACT-ACF compacts are precedent setting because they recognize instream values and, because they are the first water compacts in the southeast, may used as models for future compacts in our area. Because there are no apparent public meetings after the state's allocation formulae are released to the public, it is important to provide input to the state commissioners before December 1998. Points of contact for the ACT Basin Compact are Alabama Governor Fob James (State Commissioner), Representative Richard Laird (alternate Commissioner), and Walter Stevenson (ADECA-Office of Water Resources).

Frank Parauka at the Service's office in Panama City, Florida, reports that his office, along with the National Marine Fisheries Service, have sponsored Dewayne Fox of the North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in his search for spawning sites of Acipenser oxyrhynchus desotoi in the Choctawhatchhee River Drainage. Twenty adult Gulf sturgeon (25-80 kg) were collected in Choctawhatchee Bay prior to their upstream spawning migration, sexed, and surgically implanted with radio and sonic tags. These fish were tracked to upstream locations, and egg samplers deployed at these areas. Gulf sturgeon eggs were collected at six locations in the Choctawhatchee and Pea rivers near Geneva, Alabama. Sites were characterized with limestone bluffs/outcropping and hardbottom substrate. Tagged sturgeon will be monitored as they leave the river system. Migratory patterns and marine habitats will be studied. Frank also reports that his office and Eglin Air Force Base are partnering a project to monitor sub-adult Gulf sturgeon in Choctawhatchee Bay. Sixteen sturgeon (2-19 kg) were collected in the Choctawhatchee River and equipped with external sonic tags. Monitoring of movements in the bay and marine habitats will be supplemented with remote sensors at Destin Pass and Santa Rosa Sound. Preliminary data from last year indicates that five of six sub-adults tagged remained in the bay during the entire winter. Nadine Craft of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is conducting a similar study in Pensacola and Escambia bays in Florida, where she has tagged 12 sturgeon (2-45 kg) in the Yellow River.

Jim Williams at the US Geological Survey Biological Resources Division at the Florida Caribbean Science Center reports on the findings of a mussel survey of the Escambia and Yellow river systems from 1990-96 that he worked on with Holly Blalock and Doug Shelton. Thirty-six of 64 historical sites and 59 new sites were surveyed for mussels in the Escambia River Drainage; 28 of the 30 species historically known from the basin were found. In the Yellow River Drainage, seven of the 11 historic sites and 71 new sites were surveyed; 11 of 15 historic species were collected, as well as two previously unreported species. Rare mussels known from the basins were found at only a few sites. Future efforts will concentrate on resurveying the remaining historical sites.

A second Alabama sturgeon is now a resident of Marion Fish Hatchery in Alabama. This specimen was collected by Phillip Kilpatrick of the Alabama Game and Fish in December 1997 in Claiborne Pool on the Alabama River. It was captured on a trotline baited with nightcrawlers at a historic site in a hole off the end of a sand bar. Phillip reports a recent sexing of both specimens showed that the newest sturgeon is a male, and the specimens captured last Spring is a female; the female does not appear ready to spawn this year. Efforts will continue this Spring to collect more sturgeon for future captive propagation.

Rick Mayden and Herb Boschung at the University of Alabama continue to work on the Freshwater Fishes of Alabama. Rick and Brooks Burr at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale are nearing completion of the description of a new blue sucker from the eastern Gulf Slope. Rick is also continuing a status survey of and diversity study within Etheostoma ditrema. Lastly, he is working on a phylogeny of snubnose darters with graduate students Cesar Blanco and Jessica Dorion, and David Nieland of the Coastal Fisheries Institute, Louisiana State University, using allozyme characters.

Bernie Kuhajda