At the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas chapter of the American Fisheries Society, Jason Throneberry, ANHC Aquatic Ecologist, received an award for his presentation titled “Current Status and Habitat Use of the Foushee Cavesnail.”
Throneberry’s presentation was based on more than five years of collaborative research at Foushee Cave, located within Foushee Cave Natural Area in Independence County. The ANHC acquired Foushee Cave Natural Area in 2007.
Throneberry worked with Mike Slay of the Northwest Arkansas Field Office of The Nature Conservancy and Steve Taylor of the Illinois Natural History Survey to gather data for the research. Throneberry used historic data going back to 1979 when the Foushee cavesnail (Amnicola cora), a single site endemic, was first described to science. Because little information was available concerning this species, a project was initiated to establish baseline data on habitat use and population size.
Throneberry, Slay, and other ecologists made trips to Foushee Cave during the late spring and early summer months (to minimize disturbance to hibernating gray bats) and at monthly intervals (to minimize damage to the cavesnail population). Twenty-five sampling locations were established and the number of cavesnails present was counted within a sampling quadrat (measured by a PVC-pipe square that allowed 0.05 m2 to be viewed at one time). Sampling occurred during 12 visits from 2007 to 2014.
The surveys found that the density of snails per square meter and the population size of the snails is much higher than originally assumed by prior research studies. Snails were found throughout the cave, extending much deeper than the area being studied.
The research at Foushee Cave helped the ANHC and other state and federal agencies to determine the actions needed for current and future conservation efforts within the cave system. Foushee Cave occurs within a karst system, a type of landscape in which the bedrock has been chemically weathered by groundwater over time. Karst systems can include caves, sinkholes, and springs. Karst regions contain underground aquifers that hold large portions of water. A recharge zone is the surface area surrounding an aquifer from which water from precipitation or surface water replenishes the groundwater stored in the aquifer. Approximately 25 percent of our nation’s groundwater is located in cave and karst regions, making this unique landscape a valuable supplier of freshwater (Karst Topography in the Arkansas Ozarks, A discussion guide).
Foushee Cave is one of the longest known cave systems in Arkansas (Gulden 2010) presently surveyed to a length of 7,390 feet with additional passages that have yet to be mapped. These underground systems can move large quantities of water over great distances in a relatively short period of time, undergoing very little filtration in the process. Runoff, leaky sewage systems, and landfills can all pose significant threats and contamination of karst aquifers.
In order to have a more complete picture of the karst system around Foushee Cave, Throneberry and Slay contracted with Tom Aley at Ozark Underground Laboratories (OUL) in 2010 to determine the area of the groundwater recharge zone for Foushee Cave. The OUL research helped the ANHC and its partners to assess the potential for groundwater impacts to the sensitive cave system and make important decisions about how to protect it. As a result of this study, the ANHC now owns over 80 percent of the land recharging groundwater at Foushee Cave.
Jason Throneberry has done a terrific job for ANHC for the past eight years after being hired as the first aquatic ecologist on the ANHC staff. Thanks to his great work, Jason has been rewarded with a new position, but unfortunately that means he is leaving us here at ANHC. Jason is moving to Birmingham, Alabama where he has been named the Director of Aquatic Programs for The Nature Conservancy Alabama. We are very proud of Jason and know that TNC has gained a tremendous employee. Obviously, he will be greatly missed here at ANHC!
Top left: Jason Throneberry with his award.
Above right: Foushee cavesnail (Amnicola cora), photo by Mike Slay
Above left: The entrance to Foushee Cave