Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes
1999 Report of Region 4 - South Central
Jan Hoover at the Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi reports that fellow staff members Jack Killgore, Steven George, and Bradley Lewis are studying the colonization of a constructed gravel bar by fishes in a diversion canal receiving water from the Tenn-Tom Waterway in Mississippi (Tombigbee River drainage). The gravel bar was created 10 years ago and was rapidly colonized by minnows and darters; including a single Crystallaria asprella. Today, crystal darters are present in substantially high numbers. Jan and Jack are conducting baseline studies of east Mississippi streams to forecast fishery benefits of planned habitat restoration projects. Lake George, a backwater of the Big Sunflower River (Yazoo River drainage) is an important spawning area for fishes, but is dewatered during low river stages in the summer. Models relating river stage to larval fish densities indicated that substantial benefits would result from a fixed-crest weir that would pool water during this critical period. They also are examining dewatering in the upper Little Tallahatchie River (Yazoo River drainage) along with staff from the USDA Forest Service in Oxford (see below for details). Swimming performance studies of several fishes in laboratory streams were conducted this summer by Jan, Jack, and former University of Mississippi student Reid Adams (now at SIUC). Swimming endurance models were developed and station-holding behaviors described for the endangered Scaphirhynchus albus and the Eurasian round goby, Neogobius melanostomus. Studies provided insights into microhabitats likely to be inhabited by pallid sturgeon and the possible containment of round goby dispersal (low water velocities provided nearly 100% short-term containment of the goby). In a recently completed study, Steven described ontogenetic variation in rostrum dimensions of paddlefish from the Big Sunflower River (Yazoo River drainage). Steven is also examining ontogenetic and interspecific variation in lower Mississippi River Basin shovelnose and pallid sturgeons. Recent acquisition of some juvenile pallid sturgeons from Upper Missouri-Yellowstone, Lower Missouri, and Lower Mississippi-Achafalaya hatcheries will allow some evaluation of intraspecific variation among populations. Lastly, Jan wanted to credit Neil Douglas of Northeast Louisiana University for participation in fieldwork with the team and cataloging and curating all specimens collected (NLU Museum of Zoology).
Mel Warren and Wendell Haag at the USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station in Oxford, Mississippi, conducted a survey of a 21 mile segment of the old channel of the Little Tallahatchie River (above Sardis Reservoir) and an adjacent drainage canal this fall in north-central Mississippi. The old channel is being considered for a flow restoration project by the Corps, which would return flow to the channel from a tributary stream. The upper reaches of this segment of the old channel consist of small isolated pools in the summer; downstream the channel retains water all year but ceases to flow by mid-summer. Mel and Wendell found remnants of a bottomland river and wetland fish fauna still hanging on in the old channel. They took four large Hybognathus hayi in a gillnet, but failed to capture any other specimens using seines or backpack electroshockers. With Jan Hoover's Waterways Experiment Station crew, they took a single specimen of Notropis maculatus in an isolated pool in the old channel. This find represents a considerable upstream range extension for this species in the Yazoo River basin. They also collected Elassoma zonatum and Fundulus crysotus. Despite years without sustained flow, the old channel generally maintains a more diverse fish fauna (about 26 species/collection) than the drainage canal (about 23 species). They will return to the field this spring or early summer to re-sample both the canal and old channel (a bantam sunfish lurks out there somewhere). Mel and Wendell also report work in press on a study documenting the effectiveness of freshwater mussel mantle displays in eliciting attacks from fishes (bass and darters). They are also working on a manuscript looking at diurnal and nocturnal displays of gravid female mussels and their response to the presence of fishes. Additionally, Mel and Brooks Burr at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale are completing a manuscript entitled "A history of ichthyology in Kentucky" and hope to submit that soon for publication.
Brooks Burr continues to get young of the year bighead carp, silver carp, and grass carp from the lower Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries. All three species appear to be established in this region. Brooks, along with Ken Cook, David Eisenhour, Donovan Henry, James Ladonski, and Jeff Stewart had a successful snorkeling trip in the Big South Fork during May 1998 and found nests of Etheostoma percnurum at two separate sites in the Kentucky portion of Big South Fork. Their only concern was the high incidence of black-spot disease that was present on every individual observed. Donovan Henry, a masters student at SIUC, completed a study of the nesting and reproductive biology of Nocomis effusus in Little South Fork, Kentucky, and obtained data on nest density throughout the entire stream system.
Todd Slack was recently hired by the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson as a non-game research biologist. His primary responsibilities are to curate the state ichthyological collection and to conduct research on the ecology, conservation and management of non-game fishes and their communities. The ichthyology collection, presently 23,005 catalogued lots, has received minimal attention during the past decade. Efforts are being devoted to verifying identifications and databasing all catalogued lots and working through an enormous amount of backlogged material. Additionally, all Museum staff are preparing for the move to their new museum facility (scheduled for April 1999) located along the Pearl River at LeFleur Bluff State Park, approximately three miles north of the present museum. The new 73,500 square foot facility will include three separate collection ranges (paleontology, wet (fishes, herps) and dry (mussels, birds, mammals, herbarium)) and associated laboratories, an aquarium system containing 70,000 gallons of water, a 200 seat auditorium, and classrooms. The outside facilities will include a bird watching area, 2.5 miles of nature trails, pathways with interpretive stations, and 300 acres of cypress swamps, sandy creek bottoms, native gardens, and steep wooded bluffs. Additionally, Todd is still involved with the Gulf sturgeon project that he worked on as a post-doc at USM (see below). You may contact Todd at the Museum via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (601-354-7303).
Stephen T. Ross at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg reports that he, along with Ryan Heise, Mollie Cashner, and Todd Slack, are studying movement and habitat use of Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi in the Pascagoula River drainage. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks are funding the project. In April 1998, seven Gulf sturgeon were captured near a potential spawning area in the Bouie River near Hattiesburg. Sturgeon were equipped with external dangler or floy tags, PIT tags, and external radio transmitters. Downstream migration began at the end of April and ended at a summering area in the vicinity of Big Black Creek in the lower Pascagoula River, about 56 km upstream from the Gulf of Mexico. Additional summer sampling in these areas yielded 23 additional Gulf sturgeon ranging from 116 to 204 cm FL. All fish were equipped with external and PIT tags, and nine were equipped with external radio tags. Radio tagged individuals move extensively along Big Black Creek from the confluence of Red and Black creeks downstream to its confluence with the Pascagoula. Movement also occurs in the main channel of the Pascagoula, mostly from the area of Big Black Creek downstream 1.5 km to the vicinity of Brewton Lake. By 10 November, all fish in the lower Pascagoula-Black Creek area had moved downstream into the estuary. Work this year includes monitoring tagged sturgeon moving into the Pascagoula River during the spring migration and efforts to verify spawning sites by deploying egg samplers in the presumed spawning areas. Gill nets will be used to capture additional sturgeon as they enter the Pascagoula River and at holding sites later in the year. Captured sturgeon will be equipped with both external radio and sonic tags to track sturgeon in salt and freshwater. A point for concern is that a proposed dam threatens the presumed spawning habitat on the Bouie River. Stephen also reports that he and Pam Schofield are using artificial streams to study meso- and micro-habitat selection of Percina aurora and P. copelandi. The distribution of P. aurora historically included both the Pearl and Pascagoula drainages. However, the Pearl darter is now thought to be extirpated from the Pearl River and is very rare in the Pascagoula River drainage. Because of its rarity, they have used channel darters as a surrogate species to investigate habitat selection. Larval rearing techniques for both species are being developed by Patrick Rakes at Conservation Fisheries, Inc. Other ongoing research at the USM includes ecological studies of blenniid fishes on offshore petroleum platforms in the northern Gulf of Mexico by Tommy Rauch; completion of dissertation research on use of fringing floodplains by fishes of a southeastern blackwater stream by Martin O'Connell; dissertation research on the comparative ecology and behavior of two gobiid species in Florida Bay, Florida by Pamela Schofield; completion of a masters thesis on habitat use and demographics of the bisexual and unisexual silversides (Menidia) on Horn Island, Mississippi by John Ewing; and a masters thesis on the functional significance of alarm substances in cypriniform fishes by Mollie Cashner. Lastly, Stephen and Stuart Poss of the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi have received NSF support for the combined ichthyological collections at the University of Southern Mississippi. These include the fish collection at Gulf Coast Research Lab and the fish museum on the main campus in Hattiesburg. Funding is for three years and provides support for processing backlogged collections. These backlogged collections include large larval holdings from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as various freshwater and marine collections of juvenile and adult fishes. Two doctoral research assistantships are included in the project.
Mark Peterson at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi has some US Fish & Wildlife and Nature Conservancy funds to survey for Fundulus jenkinsi in coastal Mississippi and Alabama from the Pascagoula River to Mobile Bay this summer. Mark and others are also continuing their MS-AL Sea Grant project on recruitment variability in estuarine fishes and have some new funds to address Essential Fish Habitat along an anthropogenic gradient in the Pascagoula River. Mark, along with others, has five papers in press: the affect of salinity on growth in juvenile Atlantic croaker, Micropogonias undulatus; life history of a peripheral population of bluespotted sunfish, Enneacanthus gloriosus, with comments on geographic variation; comparison of Breder traps and seines used to sample marsh nekton; growth, spawning preparedness and diet of the southeastern blue sucker, Cycleptus sp. cf. elongatus; and laboratory growth responses of juvenile Mugil sp. to temperature and salinity, delineating optimal field growth conditions.
Daniel J. Drennen recently joined the staff at the US Fish and Wildlife Service field office in Jackson, Mississippi. Daniel announced the 90-day finding (Substantial) for a petition to list the vermilion darter, Etheostoma chermocki, from Jefferson County, Alabama as Endangered. The finding was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, 26 January 1999. Additionally, the Pearl darter, Percina aurora, is being considered for elevation to candidate status. Anyone with additional information about this species can contact Daniel at USFWS, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Jackson, Mississippi, 39157, (601) 965-4900, ext. 27.
Hank Bart at Tulane University reports continued work on the conservation status of Percina aurora and P. brevicauda, as well as the undescribed rush darter, Etheostoma sp. cf. parvipinne. Working with students Kyle Piller, Jason Tipton, and Nakia Jackson, and Steve Ross and students from University of Southern Mississippi, Hank resurveyed parts of the Leaf River and Bouie and Okatoma creeks in 1998 looking for Pearl darters. Specimens (very few, in breeding condition) were taken only in the Leaf River. Hank and Kyle surveyed sites on the Blackburn Fork of the Little Warrior River and the Cahaba River in Alabama in September 1998, looking for Percina brevicauda. A single specimen was taken from Blackburn Fork. More status work is planned in 1999 for this species as well. Now that the manuscript describing the rush darter is in review, Hank is planning to start assessing the status of known populations of this species. The aim of this work will be to confirm the continued presence of the species in the two areas where it has been recently collected (spring-fed streams in Bankhead National Forest and Pinson AL), and to try to locate additional populations. This species is also being recommended for Federal Candidate Status.
Jonathan W. Armbruster is the new Curator of Fishes at the Auburn University Museum Fish Collection, which has extensive holdings of fishes from throughout the southeastern United States and the Gulf of Mexico. For loans and locality records, please contact Jon at email@example.com or (334) 844-9261.
Carol Johnston at the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures, Auburn University, is currently working on the behavioral ecology of Cottus pygmaeus, development of habitat models for Cyprinella caerulea, and continues with her work on sound production in fishes. Carol's student, Bryan Phillips, is conducting a survey of fishes and mussels of Bear Creek (Tennessee River drainage). Bryan will compare his data to Ben Wall's 1968 survey, which was done before most of the reservoirs on the system were in place.
Jim Godwin of the Alabama Natural Heritage Program in Montgomery, Alabama reports that he just finished an examination of two springs on the Fort McClellan Military Reservation for the feasibility of transplanting specimens of Cottus pygmaeus from Coldwater Spring. Based on numerous factors, including aquatic vegetation and aquatic invertebrate fauna present in these springs relative to Coldwater Spring, Jim concluded that these springs were inadequate to support pygmy sculpins.
Malcolm Pierson at Alabama Power Company reports that he will begin a status survey of Etheostoma chuckwachatte in the Tallapoosa River system in Alabama and Georgia. He requests that anyone with recent records of the lipstick darter contact him. Malcolm will also be searching the Tallapoosa River system for the muscadine darter. Additionally, Malcolm reports the rediscovery of populations of two federally Endangered mussels, Pleurobema decisum and P. perovatum, in July 1998 in a section of the original Coosa River channel that had been cut off by the Weiss Reservoir diversion dam. Natural flows in the old river channel have been greatly reduced and are affected by reverse flows during hydroelectric operations. The density and total range of these mussel populations are not yet known.
Greg Lein with the State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Natural Heritage Section reports the recent acquisition of several tracts of land through Alabama's Forever Wild Program, which will assist in the conservation of some of the state's aquatic resources. These include the 60 acre Blowing Spring Cave Nature Preserve within the interior low plateau, which comprises cave, field, forest and riparian habitats adjacent to Second Creek in Lauderdale County. This aquatic cave may support several rare species, in addition to a maternity colony of gray bats. Another acquisition is the 3,924 acre Doug Ghee Nature Preserve and Recreation Area, consisting of wooded terrain at Coldwater Mountain, located between Oxford and Anniston. This area secures a natural landscape which comprises the majority of the recharge basin for Coldwater Spring, which contains the only populations of Cottus pygmaeus and a genetically distinct population of Etheostoma ditrema. Greg also reports the planned acquisition of the Sipsey River Swamp Nature Preserve and Recreation Area, a 2,998 acre expanse of mostly bottomland hardwood swamp and riverine habitats in Tuscaloosa County (Tombigbee River drainage). The swamp contains excellent habitat for waterfowl and neotropical migrants, while the river historically supported six federally listed mussel species, four of which are extant. The river also supports spring runs of the genetically distinct southern walleye. This acquisition is intended to be the first of several projects targeting the conservation of this system's aquatic fauna and flora.
Scott Mettee of the Geological Survey of Alabama in Tuscaloosa reports that a recent study in the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River by Tom Shepard, Pat O'Neil, Scott, and Stuart McGregor uncovered a heretofore unknown population of Notropis cahabae. The Cahaba shiner is presently known to occupy 64 miles of the Locust Fork main channel and its abundance at some localities appears greater than found in recent Cahaba River surveys. Ranges for Percina brevicauda and Etheostoma douglasi were also expanded throughout the Locust Fork drainage. Etheostoma nigripinne, a Tennessee River drainage endemic, was also discovered for the first time in the Mobile Basin, from Graves Creek, located in the extreme upper reaches of the Locust Fork. Likewise, Ichthyomyzon castaneus and Strongylura marina were collected at several locations in Locust Fork for the first time. Scott is continuing studies on population size, spawning activity, and post-spawning movements of blue suckers in the lower Alabama River. Results of last year's sonic tracking efforts confirmed that following spawning, blue suckers move from 70 to 156 miles downstream into the lower Alabama and Mobile River systems where they spend the summer months. At least four sonic-tagged fish have moved upstream into the Claiborne pool and Millers Ferry tailwater area in the spring, presumably to spawn, and then they returned to their same individual downstream habitats, even to the same treetop, for two successive summers. In May 1998, Scott and Pat collected a single, healthy Alosa alabamae at the base of Selden Lock and Dam in Greene County. This is the first known record of an Alabama shad taken from the Black Warrior River system this century.
William Nichols of the Marion State Fish Hatchery in Alabama reports the capture of a third Alabama sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus suttkusi), a male in non-reproductive condition, in November of 1998. This fish joins the male and female that were captured in 1997; the female was surgically examined in December 1998 and appears to be developing eggs. Modifications to the existing hatchery facilities and the construction of a new sturgeon holding and culture facility was initiated in 1998 and is continuing. These facilities will be utilized to increase brood stock holding capacity and to provide space for future sturgeon fingerling culture.
Frank Parauka of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Panama City, Florida reports that his office has been studying the movement and habitat use of sub-adult Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi overwintering in Choctawhatchee Bay, Florida. Twenty fish, weighing from 2 to 19 kg, were equipped with external ultrasonic tags in 1996-97. A total of 263 observations were recorded for sub-adults from November 1996 through May 1998. Ninety-one percent of the sub-adults tagged remained in Choctawhatchee Bay the entire winter or ventured into Santa Rosa Sound. Sub-adults showed a preference to shoreline habitats (100 m to 2.0 km from shore) with sandy substrates and water depths less than 4 m. Frank also reports that Gulf sturgeon were collected in 1998 in the Apalachicola River below the Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam and were compared to population size and year class distribution data from the last survey conducted in 1993. The 1998 Gulf sturgeon population estimate at 95% CI was 270 fish (135-1719) compared to 95 fish (75-196) in 1993. Sub-adults represented 69.5% of the sample in 1998 and 59.0% in 1993. Fish in excess of 45.0 kg decreased in occurrence, from 24.0% in 1993 to 6.5% in 1998. The study is to be duplicated in 1999. Lastly, Frank reports that the lower Apalachicola River was stocked with 111,000 Phase II Morone saxatilis. This was the first year that the goal of 100,000 Phase II fish had been achieved. The program is part of a cooperative agreement between the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Florida, Georgia and Alabama to restore striped bass in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.
Rick Mayden and Herb Boschung at the University of Alabama continue to work on the Freshwater Fishes of Alabama. Rick reports that his lab is working on several status surveys, including Etheostoma ditrema throughout its range in the Coosa River drainage in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee; Etheostoma trisella in the Coosa drainage in Alabama; the undescribed blueface darter, Etheostoma sp. cf. zonistium, in the upper Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River and Bear Creek in the Tennessee River drainage; and Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni in the Tennessee drainage. Rick also reports that graduate student Cesar Blanco is completing a study on using habitat variables to predict abundance and presence/absence of Etheostoma chermocki in Turkey Creek, Jefferson County, Alabama, and student Dave Neely is examining several undescribed species of Cottus in the Mobile Basin, as well as looking at variation in Noturus munitus.