Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes

The Southeastern Fishes Council List of Freshwater Fishes

Noel M. Burkhead
U.S. Geological Survey
Southeast Ecological Science Center
7920 NW 71st Street
Gainesville, FL 32653


The southeastern United States within the boundaries of the Southeastern Fishes Council (SFC Constitution) has the most diverse regional aquatic fauna of North America. Several fundamental factors are responsible for the tremendous diversity in the region of aquatic insects, mollusks, crayfishes, fishes, and other aquatic organisms. First, the region has experienced relatively long climatic stability; the southeast was a sanctuary from the great ice sheets that covered much of northern North America during the global climate changes in the Pleistocene. Secondly, the inherent geological, topographic, and hydrologic complexity of the region is the underlying basis for the great wealth of habitats and environments. The aquatic landscapes of the southeast are ancient and have changed vastly over time; geologic and hydrological processes that transformed the landscape affected the evolution, composition, and distribution of aquatic faunas. In comparison to the glaciated regions of eastern North America, the southeast is a landscape dominated by rivers. Natural lakes occur on the lower Coastal Plain, river mainstem oxbows, and throughout peninsular Florida, but few natural lakes occur in the southeast’s interior. Examples are Mountain Lake, formed from an ancient caldera in Virginia and Tennessee’s Reelfoot and Isom lakes, formed by the New Madrid earthquake in 1812.

Across the tapestry of topography and time, a veritable cornucopia of aquatic diversity evolved in the southeast producing the rich diversity of freshwater fishes and other aquatic biotas. The fish fauna includes archaic fishes such as sturgeons, paddlefishes, and gars whose ancestors shared the super continent Pangaea with dinosaurs. However, most fishes are members of a more modern fauna, thought to have evolved from about the late Miocene to the Pleistocene (about 11 million to 10 thousand years before present). Evolution is a dynamic, ongoing process; the fish we see today are but a contemporary snapshot of organisms occupying the southeast for tens of thousands of years or longer.

Most southeastern fishes are “primary” or obligate freshwater fishes, implying intolerance of seawater, but many species can tolerate dissolved ion concentrations up to 20 or 30% of full strength saltwater. These include familiar fishes such as minnows, catfishes, sunfishes and basses, and perches. However, a few fishes encountered in inland streams are clearly marine species. These marine species can move between saline and freshwater environments, and some may venture hundreds of kilometers inland. Examples of marine species that occur in fresh waters are the striped mullet Mugil cephalus, Atlantic needlefish Strongylura marina, and the curious hogchoker Trinectes maculatus. Some coastal springs have enough dissolved minerals to enable marine fishes like mangrove snappers Lutjanus griseus to school with freshwater species like the bluegill Lepomis macrochirus.

A subset of southeastern fishes evolved complex lifestyles that depend on both freshwater and marine realms (diadromy). Two common types of diadromy are anadromy, fishes that live in marine realms as adults but ascend creeks and rivers to spawn, and catadromy, fishes that spawn in saltwater but the young must enter and remain in fresh water until near adulthood. Gulf sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi and striped bass Morone saxatilis are examples of southeastern anadromous fishes. The only catadromous example is the American eel Anguilla rostrata. In the following list, marine fishes that readily enter freshwater and diadromous fishes are indicated by a parenthetic ‘M‘or ‘D’ after the common name, respectively.

The following SFC list of fishes (Table 1) is an update of the 2000 southern fishes list by Warren et al. and the 2008 American Fisheries Society’s list of imperiled North American freshwater and diadromous fishes by Jelks et al. (see RESOURCES, Conservation Lists). The SFC list includes the names of recently described fishes (through August 2009); revisions of the list will be appended as is necessary by the SFC Executive Committee.


The documented fish diversity of North America (here defined as Canada, Mexico, and the United States) encompasses about 1200 species. The fishes found in the southeast include some of the earliest fishes described from North America in 1758 by Linnaeus (nine species). Since 1950, southeastern fishes have been under continuous study with an average of 3.2 new species described per year (range 0-11). There have been only eight years since 1950 in which a new taxon was not described; however, 10 or more species were described per year in 1956, 1969, 1971, and 2007. Since 2001, 27 new species have been described in the 21st Century. Within the SFC boundaries there are 40 families of fishes representing 732 taxa, comprised of 584 species, 66 subspecies, 52 undescribed species, 18 undescribed subspecies or evolutionary significant population units (ESUs), and 12 unresolved species complexes (groups of undescribed related species). Modern biomolecular techniques enable biologists to recognize finer scales of diversity such as unique populations within species. Recognizing unique populations can be critical in the conservation of species because such populations retain adaptations to local environments over time and are often associated with distinct geographic settings such as different river drainages or physiographic provinces. Included in the list are 24 marine fishes and 11 diadromous fishes. As is standard for such lists, the column headings include names of families, scientific names consisting of the genus, species, and sometimes subspecies, common names, and the name(s) of the scientists (authorities) who formally described each species or subspecies.

Undescribed species or subspecies are fishes that have not been formally described in the peer-reviewed scientific literature; they are indicated by the abbreviation for species (sp.) or subspecies (ssp.), usually followed by ‘cf.’ (meaning referable to) and the name of the species that the undescribed taxon most closely resembles. For example, Clinostomus sp. cf. funduloides, the "smoky dace,” simply indicates the undescribed species of Clinostomus ‘that is similar to’ the species funduloides. Because common names of undescribed taxa are not formalized, (the common name is usually coined by the author or authors of the species in the description), they appear between quotation marks in the list, and the authority column for that taxon is blank.

Finally, the list includes conservation status assessments used by the American Fisheries Society Endangered Species Committee for fishes regarded to be vulnerable, threatened, endangered, or extinct in the 2000 and updated in 2008 (see RESOURCES, Conservation Lists). Status categories used in the aforementioned lists were adopted to create the SFC Status categories in Table 1. Conservation statuses used are CS=currently stable and EX=extirpated from the southeastern United States, V=vulnerable, T=threatened, E=endangered, and X=extinct. The definitions of vulnerable, threatened, and endangered are hierarchical; vulnerable: all or a significant portion of a species is in danger of becoming threatened; threatened: all or a significant portion of a species is in danger of becoming endangered; endangered: all or a significant portion of a species is in danger of becoming extinct.

Of the 732 taxa, 496 are currently stable, 116 are vulnerable, 50 are threatened, 65 are endangered, 2 are extirpated from the southeast, and 3 are extinct. By taxonomic levels, 30.2% of species are imperiled (vulnerable, threatened, endangered, extirpated from the southeast, or extinct), 12.1% of subspecies, 61.5% of undescribed species, 94.4% of ESUs/undescribed subspecies, and 16.7% of species complexes. Nearly a third (32%) of the fauna within the boundaries of the SFC is imperiled. Among the four largest families, 25% of the 209 minnows, 26% of 46 suckers, 51% of the 47 catfishes (all madtoms), and 41% of 247 darter taxa are imperiled. The highest imperilment levels occur among three small families of fishes: 86% of 11 sturgeons, 83% of 6 cavefishes, and 64% of 7 pygmy sunfishes. The 2 fishes extirpated from the southeast are the greater redhorse Moxostoma valenciennesi and the Chesapeake logperch Percina bimaculata. The 3 extinct species are the harelip sucker Moxostoma lacerum, whiteline topminnow Fundulus albolineatus, and the San Marcos gambusia Gambusia georgei. The whiteline topminnow and the San Marcos gambusia were restricted to the southeast.

The two largest underlying causes of imperilment are habitat loss and introduction of non-native fishes or other aquatic organisms. The major causes of habitat loss are impoundment (large and small), regulated river flows, thermal alteration of flows, habitat fragmentation, excessive sedimentation, flashy run-off, point source and non-point source pollution, riparian zone denudation, loss of forested lands, certain agricultural practices, and spreading urbanization. Most of the major rivers in the southeast have at least one mainstem dam and many have multiple dams. Large dams negatively affect large river and anadromous fishes. Many smaller tributaries are blocked by farm ponds and other structures like poorly designed road culverts that act as barriers during low flow periods. Large and small impoundments are often sources for introduction of non-native fishes. Because the southeast is experiencing significant human population increases, the scale and rate of landscape transfiguration is increasing, and the numbers and severity of imperiled southeastern fishes will increase in the future. Many imperiled fishes in the southeast are endemics with moderate, small, or highly localized ranges. In particular, fishes with diminutive ranges are inherently more vulnerable to habitat loss and decline. Global climate change will increase the frequency of extreme weather conditions; how climate change will affect extinction-vulnerable fishes is unknown.

The long term goal of the SFC is to link every southeastern fish on the list with one or more images, a map showing its native range, and a synopsis of its life history. Through this list and other activities, the SFC seeks to educate the public about the richness of the southeastern fish fauna, and the conservation needs of a significant portion of the fishes. Not immediately evident in the images are myriad ecological adaptations for conducting the serious business of survival and reproduction.

Relative to birds, mammals, amphibians, or reptiles, public awareness of most nongame fishes is relatively low throughout North America. Even though the southeastern United States encompasses nearly half of the fishes found in North America, public knowledge of the fauna is often limited to game, food, and bait species; small fishes are often lumped under the vernacular “minnows.” At conservation meetings, seminars, and workshops, biologists have repeatedly identified the need for public education as a significant, exigent need necessary to instigate broader public support for conservation of the fauna. Exhibiting quality images of southeastern fishes is one of the simplest ways to familiarize a large audience with the diversity of southeastern freshwater fishes.


Throughout North America, public awareness of nongame fishes is relatively low when compared to the general knowledge of birds, mammals, amphibians, or reptiles. The southeastern United States has the highest regional diversity of fishes, representing about half of those found in North America. The current regional tally is 732 taxa and growing. Quality images are one of the simplest ways to familiarize the public with the remarkable diversity of shapes, sizes, and coloration of southeastern freshwater fishes.

We seek quality color images, both fish “portraiture” (body level, fins erect) and underwater photographs, of southeastern freshwater fishes. Many of the images in our current collection are from preparation of state fish books, and we encourage authors of such books to consider donating their image collections. Many students of fishes undergo considerable effort to produce high quality fish images. With the advent of digital photography, creating, and sharing quality, high-resolution images have never been easier. Regarding individuals with slide portfolios of fishes, the SFC is willing to scan slide collections if owners do not have digital copies. Images sent to the SFC for posting on the website should be in jpg-format and of high resolution (600 dpi); crop images closely (even underwater images), and follow the convention of orienting the head left. All images submitted to the SFC will be maintained securely and only low resolution copies will be posted on line; the photographers name will be cross referenced with each image. Please do not submit requests for images to the SFC.

Naming images.—Use the current scientific name of the species as the filename; number images of the same species sequentially, e.g., Pteronotropis euryzonus_1.jpg, Pteronotropis euryzonus_2.jpg. We will assign a unique number to each photographer donating images based on receipt of images. For example, the images of the broadstripe shiner, donated by Uland Thomas (photographer number 13), are named Pteronotropis euryzonus_13.jpg and Pteronotropis euryzonus_13.1.jpg (note: omit “zeros” from decimal notation). Clicking on image filenames in the list will display the image and photographer’s name. We encourage photographers to submit images of different sexes or life stages (young, juvenile, or adult). Repetitions of species’ names with different numbers indicate that different photographers illustrate the same species.

If associated data are available for each image, e.g., length (mm Total Length or Standard Length), date, and locality (including water body name, county name, state, GPS coordinates), we would greatly appreciate those data being included in a separate file upon submittal of images. However, not having associated data will not preclude use of suitable images. Why collect these kinds of information with images? The southeast is rapidly changing; we believe archiving these kinds of data may be incredibly important to future students of southeastern freshwater fishes.


Names of North American Fishes

Nelson, J. S., E. J. Crossman, H. Espinosa-Pérez, L. T. Findley, C. R. Gilbert, R. N. Lea, and J. D. Williams. 2004. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Sixth edition. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 29.

Conservation Lists

Jelks, H. L., S. J. Walsh, N. M. Burkhead, S. Contreras-Balderas, E. Díaz-Pardo, D. A. Hendrickson, J. Lyons, N. E. Mandrak, F. McCormick, J. S. Nelson, S. P. Platania, B. A. Porter, C. B. Renaud, J. J. Schmitter-Soto, E. B. Taylor, and M. L. Warren Jr. 2008. Conservation status of imperiled North American freshwater and diadromous Fishes. Fisheries 33 (5):372-407

Warren, M. L., Jr., B. M. Burr, S. J. Walsh, H. L. Bart, Jr., R. C. Cashner, D. A. Etnier, B. J. Freeman, B. R. Kuhajda, R. L. Mayden, H. W. Robison, S. T. Ross, and W. C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, distribution, and conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries 25 (10):7-29.

Faunal References

Benz, G. W., and D. E. Collins (editors). 1997. Aquatic Fauna in Peril: the Southeastern Perspective. Southeast Aquatic Research Institute Special Publication Number 1, Lenz Design and Communication, Decatur, GA.

Boschung, H. T., R. L. Mayden, and J. R. Tomelleri. 2004. Fishes of Alabama. Smithsonian Press, Washington, DC.

Burr, B.M., and M.L. Warren, Jr. 1986. A distributional atlas of Kentucky fishes. Kentucky Nature and Preserves Commission Scientific and Technical Series Number 4.

Douglas, N. H. 1974. Freshwater fishes of Louisiana. Claitor is Publishing Division, Baton Rouge.

Etnier, D. A., and W. C. Starnes. 1994. The fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Hocutt, C. H., and E. 0. Wiley, editors. 1986. The zoogeography of North American freshwater fishes. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Jenkins, R. E, and N. M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Md.

Kuehne, R. A., and R. W. Barbour. 1983. American darters. University of Kentucky Press, Lexington.

Lee, D. S., C. R. Gilbert, C. H. Hocutt, R. E. Jenkins, D. E. McAllister, and J. R. Stauffer, Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh.

Marcy, B. C., Jr., D. E. Fletcher, F. D. Martin, M. H. Paller, and M. J. M. Reichert. 2005. Fishes of the middle Savannah River basin. The University Press of Georgia, Athens.

Mayden, R. L. (editor). 1992. Systematics, historical ecology, and North American freshwater fishes. Stanford University Press, CA.

Menhinick, E. F. 1991. The freshwater fishes of North Carolina. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The Delmar Co. Larkin Distributors, Charlotte.

Mettee, M.F., P.E. O’Neil, and J.M. Pierson. 1996. Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile basin. Oxmoor House, Birmingham.

Miller RJ, Robinson HW (2004) Fishes of Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Page, L. M. 1983. Handbook of Darters. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune, NJ.

Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 1991. A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Pflieger, W. L. 1997. The fishes of Missouri (second edition). Missouri Department of Conservation, Columbia.

Robison, H.W., and T.M. Buchanan. 1988. Fishes of Arkansas. The University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville.

Rohde, F.C., R.G. Arndt, J. W. Foltz, and J. M. Quattro. 2009. Freshwater fishes of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia.

Rohde, F.C., R.G. Arndt, D.G. Lindquist, and J.F. Parnell. 1994. Freshwater fishes of the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Ross, S.T. 2001. The inland fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson.

Stauffer, J. R., Jr., J. M. Boltz, and L. R. White. 1995. The fishes of West Virginia. Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Straight, C.A., B. Albanese, and B.J. Freeman. 2009. [updated 2009 March 25]. Fishes of Georgia Website, Georgia Museum of Natural History; [16 August 2009]. Available from:

Thomas, C., T. H. Bonner, and B. G. Whiteside. 2007. Freshwater fishes of Texas, a field guide. University of Texas A&M Press, College Station.

The Southeastern Fishes Council List of Freshwater Fishes