Biodiversity in the Chattahoochee headwaters—rare fishes found in recent study
Holcomb, Darcie B.
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Although many rivers in the southeastern U. S. are widely known for their aquatic biodiversity and unique freshwater habitats, little effort has been focused on documenting the occurrence and distribution of aquatic fauna in the Chattahoochee River watershed due mainly to a qualitative perception that the Chattahoochee historically supports fewer species than the “richer” adjacent river systems such as the Etowah and Conasauga. However, the recent collection of the rare Halloween darter and the belief that additional undescribed darter species may inhabit the Chattahoochee headwaters prompted the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (UCR) to initiate further research in partnership with the University of Georgia’s Institute of Ecology. To assess the aquatic biodiversity of the Chattahoochee headwaters above Lake Lanier, a review of historical records and map coverages helped to pinpoint large gaps in fish distribution data and provided the basis for the sampling plan in which ten fish species of interest were targeted based on their status as rare, endemic or state listed. Study results indicate that the Halloween darter (Percina sp. cf. P palmaris) and the bluestripe shiner (Cyprinella callitaenia), both federal species of concern, are the most imperiled aquatic species in the basin. In addition, preliminary research suggests that the recently surveyed populations of blackbanded darters (Percina nigrofasciata), Tennessee shiners (Notropis leuciodus) and Coosa shiners (N. xaenocephalus) may be unique to the Chattahoochee basin, indicating the need for genetic research and analyses that would explain population variation and verify the existence of unique and/or undescribed species. Additional efforts are also needed to adequately document the entire range of these fish species to continue to fill gaps in the collection database and to develop an appropriate “critical area” conservation strategy.