Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes
2000 Report of Region 4 - South Central
Steve Walsh at the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, Florida reports that he, along with Noel Burkhead, Howard Jelks, and Jim Williams, provided expertise in identifications of fishes collected as part of the Mobile River study unit of the USGS National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program, in coordination with personnel at the Water Resources Division in Montgomery. These samples consisted of a small number of synoptic sites scattered around the Mobile Basin (Tombigbee, Black Warrior, Cahaba, Alabama/Coosa) where quantitative water quality and habitat parameters and fish and invertebrate samples were taken. No new or unexpected records were revealed in the first of this three-year study. Further collaboration with the NAWQA project is anticipated this year as the Mobile River unit was selected as one of three watersheds nationwide for a pilot study to examine the effects of urbanization on water quality parameters (including fish diversity and abundance) across a land-use gradient. This effort will be concentrated in the Valley and Ridge province across a swath that encompasses the greater Birmingham area, and will focus on small-order, wadeable tributaries at approximately 30 stations. Fish collections will be archived at UAIC and FLMNH.
Frank Parauka of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Panama City, Florida reports that his office has conducted a number of Gulf sturgeon investigations. One hundred and three Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi were collected and tagged (Floy T-Bar and PIT tags) in the Apalachicola River below the Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam. Fish were collected from June through September 1999 using sinking gill nets of various meshes set in random locations below the dam. The fish ranged in total length from 63 to 244 cm and weighed from 1 to 81 kg. The number of sub adults (fish weighing less than 18 kg) was slightly higher than in 1998, and the number of large fish (over 45 kg in weight) was slightly lower. This population was estimated at 321 individuals using a modified Schnabel mark-recapture method. During the same time period, the Brothers River, a tributary to the Apalachicola River, was sampled seven times with sinking gill nets of various mesh sizes. Seventy one Gulf sturgeon ranging in length from 60 to 237 cm and weighing from 2 to 84 kg were collected and tagged during the period. Thirty-two subadult and adult sturgeon collected at the above two sites were equipped with external sonic tags to document migration patterns and habitat use in Apalachicola Bay. Additionally, a total of 450 subadult and adult Gulf sturgeon were collected and tagged during a 17-day gill netting study conducted in the lower Choctawhatchee River in October and November. Subadults represented 46% of the sample while fish weighing over 45 kg accounted for 8.5% of the catch. Based on these data, the population is estimated at 3,000 fish. Lastly, the lower Apalachicola River was stocked with 150,000 Phase II Morone saxatilis. This was the third year in a row that the stocking goal of 100,000 had been exceeded. The program is part of a cooperative agreement between the Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida, Georgia and Alabama to restore striped bass in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.
Bob Butler of the USFWS in Asheville, North Carolina reports that numerous Federal and State agencies and local partners are collaborating on riparian habitat restoration projects on the Conasauga and Etowah rivers. These two rivers contain endangered (Percina antesella, P. jenkinsi and Etheostoma etowahae) and threatened (Cyprinella caerulea, Etheostoma scotti) fishes, as well as numerous protected mussels. The Conasauga River Alliance and Upper Etowah River Alliance were formed to address water quality concerns in their respective watersheds. Both projects have two major "drivers" spearheading on-the-ground efforts: the Limestone Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC has hired two full-time representatives to coordinate basin-wide activities in the Conasauga, and will soon hire a field rep to work in the Etowah. Field reps work closely with riparian landowners to effect Best Management Practices, sponsor "field days" to discuss and exhibit environmentally sound farming and forestry practices, and coordinate other restoration and outreach activities with the Alliance. Primary partners in these projects include the USFWS, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service, University of Georgia Institute of Ecology, EPA, Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Southeast Aquatic Research Institute, and several other agencies, organizations, and local citizens and landowners. Federal seed money has been leveraged by these organizations into hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect these globally significant centers of aquatic biodiversity.
Malcolm Pierson at Alabama Power Company completed a status survey of Etheostoma chuckwachatte and the undescribed muscadine darter, Percina (Alvordius) sp. in the upper Tallapoosa River system in Alabama and Georgia. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded this survey. Lipstick darters were found at 65% of all sample sites and muscadine darters were present at 95% of the sites. Based on earlier collections in the upper Tallapoosa system, it appears that most known populations of both species are stable. Potential threats these species include increased sedimentation to the Tallapoosa main channel above Harris Reservoir, the scouring of the stream bottom by peaking hydroelectric discharges the dam, and the proposed West Georgia Regional Water Supply Project in Haralson County, Georgia. This proposed reservoir would impound up to 15 miles of the main channel of the Tallapoosa and five miles of lower Beach Creek. Malcolm also reports that Alabama Power Company and the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division in Gainesville, Florida will begin a more intensive study of the endangered southern clubshell (Pleurobema decisum) in the old bypassed Coosa River channel (known as the Dead River by locals) upstream of the Weiss Hydroelectric Dam. They will attempt to determine the present distribution, density and relative health of this newly rediscovered mussel population in northeastern Alabama.
Scott Mettee reports that biologists with the Geological Survey of Alabama were busy last year. Section 6 status surveys were completed on Alosa alabamae in the Choctawhatchee River and Percina lenticula and Crystallaria asprella in several Mobile Basin rivers. Mussel faunas were surveyed in the Conecuh, Choctawhatchee/Pea, and upper Tombigbee rivers. Efforts to gather data on the biology, population structure, and movements of Cycleptus meridionalis in the Alabama, Mobile, and Tombigbee rivers are continuing. Sonic tagging and tracking efforts have yielded some particularly interesting life history data for this species. To date, they have confirmed that individuals move up to 350 miles and cross over or through Claiborne Lock and Dam twice during a single spawning run. This suggests southeastern blue suckers inhabiting the Alabama River may complete one of the longest spawning runs of any freshwater fish species in North America. Of additional interest, many individuals return to the same stretch of river, even the same submerged log, for consecutive summers. Additional sonic tags will be implanted in more C. meridionalis and in two or three other species; likely candidates include Polyodon spathula, Moxostoma carinatum, and Morone saxatilis. Several reports have been published or are in progress. Pat O'Neil and Tom Shepard authored a summary report on several years of biological and water-quality work in the Cahaba River system. Stuart McGregor and Jeff Garner of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries will soon publish a report on mussels in the Tennessee River proper. Lastly, preparation of a publication on Tennessee River fishes in north Alabama and northeast Mississippi is almost complete. The report includes new collection data and localities and expands species distributions given in Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin.
Bob Stiles at Samford University reports that he has just completed a study for the city of Hoover on the upstream distribution of Notropis cahabae. He found specimens seven river miles above Piper Bridge, which is upstream of the recent distribution, but far below the historic upstream distribution in 1982 (first shoal below Booths Ford). Bob is also finishing his study on population estimates and habitat use by Cottus paulus in Coldwater Spring. Bob reports that he and Paul Blanchard are searching the upper Coosa for a spring that would be appropriate to transplant pygmy sculpins into. They have also finished a study for USFWS on the historic distribution of Cyprinella caerulea within the Cahaba River system. This species was abundant throughout the Cahaba above the Fall line until the early 1960's, and was completely extirpated after 1983. Lastly, Paul is expanding his study for the USFWS using GIS to analyze habitat structure of Etheostoma chermocki and water quality at six sites in the Turkey Creek watershed.
J.R. Shute reports that Conservation Fisheries is currently propagating Notropis cahabae and Percina aurolineata from stock from the mainstem of the Cahaba River. These fishes are to be used for toxicity studies being conducted by EPA. So far they have produced nearly a thousand Cahaba shiners and around 40 goldline darters. The shiners lay their eggs in a gelatinous mass; this has not been seen this in any other minnow. The larvae are extremely tiny and require a considerable amount of care initially. Excess fish could conceivably be used to augment populations in the Cahaba River. They only had a couple of pairs of goldline darters to start with, and Percina in general are very difficult to raise, but they hope to be able to produce good numbers this spring. These techniques will be published at some point in the near future. Additional work includes the possibility of reintroducing Cyprinella caerulea into the Cahaba; Conservation Fisheries have propagated blue shiners in the past. Another possible reintroduction of Etheostoma wapiti and Erimonax monacha into Shoal Creek in northern Alabama is in the works. Both species have been propagated and could be produced in large numbers.
Mark Peterson at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi was elected as the secretary/treasurer of the Southeastern Division of ASIH and president-elect of the Gulf Estuarine Research Society. Mark has co-authored three marine papers this last year on sampling marsh nekton, ontogenetic standardization of estuarine fishes, and spatio-temporal distribution of larval Gobiosoma bosc adjacent to natural and altered marsh-edge habitats. He has also two papers on Cycleptus meridionalis, including its growth, spawning preparedness and diet as well as the its catch-per-unit-effort, environmental conditions and spawning migration.
Stuart Poss, also at the Gulf Coast Research Lab, has authored a paper on how coastal fish distribution and diversity in the southeastern United States is changing. He has also co-authored guidelines for the application of IUCN Red List criteria at national and regional levels. Stuart continues to make progress on the website dealing with non-indigenous species in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and associated coastal area. A new web server was installed to expedite the delivery of this information: http://lionfish.ims.usm.edu/~musweb/invaders.html. He is looking for input and collaborators to extend information available on non-indigenous species in the region. The web server also hosts the website for the XVIIIth International Congress of
Zoology: http://lionfish.ims.usm.edu/~musweb/icz_xviii/icz_home.html. Lastly, Stuart reports that about 3,000 lots have been added to the GCRL Collection and the museum is in its second year of grant support from the National Science Foundation.
Todd Slack of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson reports that the museum is scheduled to open its new facilities to the public in March 2000. Most of the work on the exhibits, dioramas, aquaria and outdoor landscape has been completed, and most of the collections have been unpacked. However, the majority of the Ichthyology Collection is still boxed up and virtually inaccessible. The process of unpacking is slow as Todd is taking the opportunity to inventory all catalogued lots and conduct routine curatorial maintenance. The Museum staff continues to grow. Roy Weitzell joined the Museum last year as a Fish Biologist. Roy received his master's degree from Southern Illinois University for his taxonomic revision on a genus of South American thorny catfish, Acanthodoras. While at SIU, Roy also worked on status and life history aspects of Lampetra aepyptera in Illinois. Scott Peyton recently joined the Museum staff as the Collections Manager. Scott received his master's degree at the University of Southern Mississippi for his work on habitat partitioning between Etheostoma lynceum and E. histrio in the Bayou Pierre system. Scott has spent the last several years at Auburn working with the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
Jan Hoover at the Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station (WES) in Vicksburg, Mississippi reports that he, along with fellow staff members Jack Killgore, Steven George, and Bradley Lewis are continuing to sample a gravel bar constructed in 1988 in a cuttoff of the Tenn-Tom waterway. Neil Douglas (Professor Emeritus at University of Louisiana at Monroe) is also involved in this project. The gravel bar is maintained by flow diverted from the locking operation. One specimen of Crystallaria asprella was collected in 1989, indicating that the constructed bar could provide habitat for this rare species. To date 17 crystal darters have been collected. Another flow restoration project is underway in a cutoff of the upper Little Tallahatchie River (Yazoo River). The cutoff was a flood control measure in the 1930's and 1940's. Restoration of the now-degraded channel by re-diverting water into it is being considered. Data on fish communities and physical habitat were collected in 1998, and empirical fish-habitat models were developed last year. These were used in conjunction with hydraulic simulations to estimate restoration benefits to lotic minnow assemblages. The WES crew is also sampling fishes and physical habitat at very low flows in the upper reaches of the Big Sunflower River in autumn and early winter. Augmentation of flow via groundwater pumping is planned for the near future and these data will be used to develop empirical fish-habitat models to estimate any benefits produced. One other project in the Yazoo River Basin is the evaluation of the effects of dredging and snagging on littoral and demersal fishes. The principal streams are the Tallahatchie, Yalobusha, and Yazoo rivers. Baseline (pre- project) data were collected in 1989-1990, by electrofishing and hoopnets. These data will be compared with post-project data collected in 1999-2000 at identical sites using identical methodology. Jack, Jan, Dr. Douglas, and William Lancaster (a commercial fisherman) are involved in this years efforts. Lastly, two Ictiobus bubalus and two I. cyprinellus recently collected from the Big Sunflower River had severe deformations of the face and mouth. These fish were x-rayed this year for skeletal description to determine if deformations are developmental or traumatic in origin.
Melvin Warren of the USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Oxford, Mississippi is pleased to announce the addition of a new stream ecologist to his staff. Susie Adams, who received her doctorate from the University of Montana in 1999, joined the staff in February. Susie brings expertise in fish population dynamics, fish movement, fish-habitat interrelationships, and species interactions. She has already joined Mel and Wendell Haag in wading through fish and fish habitat data compiled from over 70 sites in the Little Tallahatchie, Tippah, Yocona, upper Wolf, and upper Hatchie river systems. That survey was conducted last summer and yielded interesting finds, given the degraded condition of many of these systems (e.g., Percina shumardi, Hybognathus hayi, Erimyzon sucetta, Noturus hildebrandi). Wendell and Mel have also been surveying the mussel fauna in the Sardis Reservoir tailwater (Little Tallahatchie River drainage), Sipsey River, and Buttahatchie River. The mussel community in each of these systems is dense, and most species show strong patterns of recruitment. The Sipsey River mussel fauna is doing extraordinarily well, and it is perhaps the only river in the Southeast in which federally listed species are among the dominant members of the community (e.g., southern clubshell, Pleurobema decisum). The study is aimed at describing population dynamics by estimating annual recruitment, mortality, and age and length specific fecundity. Mel also reports that the Technical Advisory Committee of SFC submitted the southern fishes distribution and conservation status paper to Fisheries, where it is undergoing peer-review.
Hank Bart at Tulane University reports that he, along with graduate students Kyle Piller, Jason Tipton, Nakia Jackson, and interns from the New Orleans Science and Math High School, conducted surveys in Bowie River and Okatoma Creek in 1999 looking for Percina aurora. The surveys failed to turn up specimens. Hank is presently surveying the Chickasawhay River. Steve Ross collected the species at the confluence of the Bowie and Leaf rivers in 1999, and Todd Slack collected young in the Pascagoula River. Hank and Kyle Piller surveyed sites on the Blackburn Fork of the Little Warrior River and the Cahaba in 1999 looking for the Percina brevicauda. The number of specimens taken in both systems was very small. Tom Shepard of the Alabama Geological Survey reported higher numbers of specimens collected in about 60 river miles of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River between 1997 and 1998. Tom reported limited success collecting the species in number in the Cahaba River from 1992 to 1996. The last time the species was collected in the Coosa River system (Hatchet Creek) was by Malcolm Pierson in 1995. Malcolm failed to collect the species on a return visit to Hatchet Creek in 1999, and Hank, Carol Johnston, Jon Armbruster, Kyle Piller and a large party of graduate students from Auburn failed to collect the species on a visit in 2000. Hank is of the opinion that federal protective status is warranted for this species. Now that the rush darter (Etheostoma phytophilum) is described, Hank is planning field work to assess the status of known populations of this species. Sporadic checks of the type locality in Pinson, AL have failed to turn up specimens since 1994. Localities in the Clear Creek system have not been surveyed since 1993. Hank is also recommending federal protective status for the rush darter. Lastly, Kyle Piller and Jason Tipton conducted a status survey Noturus munitus in the Pearl River. They collected the species in low numbers at five sites. Abundance of the species in the Pearl River has declined considerably in the last two decades, and Kyle and Jason believe this is related to geomorphic instability in the river.
Matt Thomas at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond has been successful in diagnosing differences between Noturus stigmosus and N. eleutherus in the Ohio River drainage, where both species can be associated and are often difficult to separate using available keys. He is also examining morphological variation throughout the range of the N. stigmosus. Preliminary data analysis indicates that populations in Coastal Plain streams of western Tennessee and Mississippi are distinct in body shape and pigmentation, when compared to populations in the Ohio River and western Lake Erie drainages. An assessment of the taxonomic status of N. stigmosus is currently underway.
Rick Mayden at the University of Alabama, along with Dave Neely, finished a survey for Etheostoma trisella in the upper Coosa in Alabama. No specimens were found. Dave continues his work on sculpins and plans to have two species descriptions out this year; the Tallapoosa sculpin with Rick and Jim Williams, and Noturus sp. cf. munitus with Rick and Phil Harris. Rick and Bernie Kuhajda are finishing a survey of Etheostoma ditrema from throughout its range in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Results from another survey, the blueface darter, Etheostoma sp. cf. zonistium, indicate that the Bear Creek population is shrinking and the stronghold for this species is the population in the upper Sipsey Fork. A more detailed study of this healthier population in the Bankhead National Forest will commence this year.
Scaphirhynchus suttkusi, the Alabama sturgeon, is again in the news. It was proposed for listing for a second time in March 1999. Due to political pressures, the final ruling was postponed until March 2000. The public comment period has been reopened numerous times for various reasons, including the release of a genetics study on sturgeon caviar and a conservation agreement and strategy between the USFWS, the Corps of Engineers, the State of Alabama, and a business coalition. Specimens continue to be captured in the lower Alabama River. In April 1999 a recreational fisherman captured a sturgeon below Claiborne Lock and Dam, which was transported to the Marion Fish Hatchery. In July 1999 a commercial fisherman gillnetted another sturgeon in the Claiborne Pool. It was released and recaptured 19 days later by Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources personnel, transported to the hatchery, and died three days later. Spawning of Alabama sturgeon was attempted at the in March 1999. A male and female sturgeon held in the hatchery since 1997 were induced to spawn. The female produced 4,000 eggs but the male did not produce sperm. Unfortunately, the female died in April 1999. All of the data to date overwhelmingly supports the listing of Scaphirhynchus suttkusi as federally endangered.