Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes
1999 Report of Region 2 - Southeast
In 1998, the Georgia Legislature passed a bill funding nongame wildlife research through purchases of speciality car tags (quail tags). The tags cost $15 more than standard tags and $14 goes to the program fund. In the first year, 9 to 10 million dollars were generated, making the Georgia Nongame Program one of the best funded in the country.
Cecil Jennings, University of Georgia Coop Unit, is a beneficiary of the nongame funding program: he received $250K for a five-year aquaculture study to determine optimal nutrition, water quality, and culture system for rearing the robust redhorse. Regarding the conservation status of Moxostoma robustum, two populations persist: one in the Oconee River (Altamaha River drainage) and one in the Savannah River. Essentially all that is known about the latter is that it is still extant. The Oconee River population is composed of essentially age-6 to age-13 or older adults. The hypothesis that this population is experiencing repeated recruitment failure is supported by research of several graduate students working with Cecil.
Carl Ruetz examined swimming performance of larval robust redhorse. The water velocity at which larval suckers fail to hold position is quite slow: 7 cm/sec. The Oconee population of M. robustum is subject to hydropeaking discharges from Sinclair Dam, which in turn affects the availability of backwater habitats, which are known to be important larval refugia. Robust redhorse suckers spawn in medium to small, loose gravel substrates. Erik Dilts conducted an interesting experiment demonstrating that increasing proportions of fine sediments (coarse to fine sands) reduce reproductive success. Between concentrations 0 and 25% fine sediment, survival dropped from 60 to 8%. Further examination of this range determined that the magnitude drop in survival was between 10 and 15% fine sediment composition. Based on the paucity of loose gravel substrates (at the appropriate depth and velocity), Erik and Cecil estimate that recruitment is 8% or less in the Oconee River.
To date, the greatest number of robust redhorse larvae collected in drift nets is only 32 per 1000 cubic meters. What is particularly puzzling is that other suckers, e.g. the silver redhorse M. anisurum, do not have the recruitment failure problem. Drift samples find the larvae of other catostomid species to be common, so the apparent failure in M. robustum has to do with some peculiarity of that species.
Several biologists (Jack Killgore, Jan Hoover, Phil Kirk, Stephen George, and Bradley Lewis) from the Army Corps Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, have been sampling the upper Savannah River on Fort Gordon. They have discovered additional populations of the bluebarred pygmy sunfish, Elassoma okatie (formerly known from only one population in Georgia). Phil is also beginning a study of population estimates and movement of Acipenser brevirostrum, using radio telemetry, in the Ogeechee River system draining Fort Stewart.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expressed serious concerns about dewatering of streams in the Tri-State Water Project (involving the Mobile and Apalachicola river drainages). This project is essentially long term planning for getting water to Atlanta. At one point, it was suggested that reservoirs be drawn down below 7Q10 discharges for extended periods. The 7Q10 discharge is the lowest flow recorded during a week in a decade. The effects of this would clearly be catastrophic for fishes and other aquatic species, particularly mussels. The fact that this "plan" was even considered illustrates gross ignorance or lack of concern about the impact of the project on lotic systems. Planning of the project, specifically the timing of biological studies and reporting deadlines, were not sufficient to address many critical biological concerns.
The Florida Museum of Natural History is interviewing candidates for Carter Gilbert's old position (or old Carter Gilbert's position?). Initially, applications were remarkably few when the unfounded rumor was circulated that the candidates would be required to shave their heads or to actually be bald. However, since then, Carter stopped spreading this rumor and the numbers of qualified applicants increased precipitously. The position will likely be filled this coming fall. Carter said he did not want any of his activities reported on because there was "nothing funny about them."
Gary Meffe, formerly of Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, has moved to Gainesville, where he is an associate of the UF Wildlife and Conservation Department. Gary is the managing editor for Conservation Biology. Gary was the least famous biologist on a multi-authored letter, to Secretary Babbit, which was critical of proposed work and noting that in fact there has been no restoration of the Everglades, just reallocation of water. This story went out on the AP wire and made the Gainesville Sun, our hometown newspaper.
Folks at the Gainesville USGS laboratory (Florida Caribbean Science Center) have had a productive year. Ken Sulak and Jim Clugston published a paper in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society on spawning grounds utilized by the threatened Gulf Sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi in the Suwannee River. Adults travel considerable distances upriver (215 rkm) to the Central Ridge area in Florida, and insofar as known, only spawn at a few sites. Jim Williams and George Burgess (Florida Museum of Natural History) have submitted a manuscript describing the shoal bass to the Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History. The well-known shoal bass was first discovered by Carl Hubbs, later studied by John Ramsey (Auburn University), and is at last pending formal recognition. Its description should clarify sport fishing records incorrectly attributed to Micropterus coosae. Pam Fuller, Leo Nico, Jim Williams, and Charles Boydstun have completed a book on nonindigenous fishes of the United States. This book is being published by the American Fisheries Society (Special Publication 27). Leo Nico has been intensively sampling canals in south Florida to determine the distributional limits of the Asian swamp eel (Monopterus albus). The discovery of the south Florida population garnered national press interest, in which Jim Williams was quoted as saying, "The best way to get rid of them is to club them to death." Perhaps Jim has been working on mussels too long, which is the segue to announcing that Jayne Brim-Box and Jim have a monograph in press in the Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History on the mussels of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint Rivers. Denouement??
Steve Walsh (with Mike Meador, USGS) published a report entitled "Guidelines for Quality Assurance and Quality Control of Fish Taxonomic Data Collected as Part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program." This paper is a good reference for beginning students of fishes. It also has much useful information such as summarized collection permit requirements for all states, and sources of collecting gear (nets, jars, waders, label paper, etc.). Steve's email address is: Steve_Walsh@USGS.gov. Howard Jelks and myself recently completed a report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effects of suspended sediment on the reproductive success of the tricolor shiner, an experimental surrogate for the threatened blue shiner. Suspended sediment significantly curtailed reproductive success, but not as anticipated. Instead of high egg mortality, fishes spawned less or failed to spawn with increasing suspended sediment concentrations. This report is being condensed for journal publication. Howard Jelks and Frank Jordan (Loyola University, New Orleans) have completed five years of monitoring of Okaloosa darters on Eglin Air Force Base, northwestern Florida. The remarkable finding is the populations of this endangered dater are very stable. Howard is also in the second year of an aquatic faunal surveys of Eglin AFB in areas extralimital to Okaloosa darters. These findings will be published as a handbook of the fishes of Eglin AFB.
Of general interest, a symposium will be held in Chicago on 6 - 8 December 1999 on removing dams. Yes, the time really has come to start figuring out how to take down large dams without wiping out the river system below the dam. May be this millennia thing is real. Those wishing more information may contact Paul Kanehl, 608/221-6332; FAX 608/221-6353; email Kanehp@dnr.state.wi.us. Interest in this symposium seems very high and it may be a genuine opportunity to get our fields of expertise at the table when initial exploration of the topic is being considered. Also, the Asheville Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hosting a symposium on restoration of North Carolina streams on 18 - 19 August 1999. For more information, contact Dick Biggins at 828/258-3939, ex 228, FAX 828/258-5330; email Richard_Biggins@fws.gov. Clearly, momentum is gathering on river restoration, dam removal, and on addressing river and southeastern faunal conservation issues. I encourage SFC members to alert the general membership when such topics are announced.