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Teamwork Results in Fish Find at Natural Area

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Rock Creek Natural Area (NA) is located in north-central Arkansas in the Salem Plateau of the Ozark Mountains. One of the highlights of this natural area is the crystal-clear, spring-fed water of Rock Creek and Bubbling Springs, which support many unique aquatic species. Recently, I was invited to participate in a field survey of the creek and the springs led by Dustin Lynch, ANHC aquatic ecologist. Joining us for the day’s work were partners from two other state agencies: Brie Olsen, ecologist coordinator for the Office of Water, Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ); Justin Stroman, environmental coordination biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC); and Maddie Coats, a student at Arkansas Tech and AGFC intern. Our team would be kick seining and snorkeling, two primary methods of surveying for aquatic species.

One of the specific goals of the survey was to locate and document the presence of a state vulnerable, regionally endemic fish, the Current Darter (Etheostoma uniporum). An endemic species is one that is found nowhere else in the world. Current Darters are only known to occur in headwater tributaries of the Black River in north-central Arkansas and south-central Missouri. They require clear, cold spring water and are often found in shallow, gravelly riffles. Current Darters are small slender darters, about 2 inches long, beautifully marked with red and turquoise-blue bands on the dorsal fins and vertical blue bands on the body. A distinguishing feature of the species is blue coloring on the anal fin.

Previous attempts to locate Current Darters at Rock Creek NA had not been successful, but Lynch felt that the waters near Bubbling Springs, the principle source of water for Rock Creek, should be ideal habitat for this species. It is estimated that the spring releases 1,500 gallons of water per minute. It brings forth cold, clear, spring water year-round and truly bubbles. It did not take long to confirm Lynch’s theory; the team found Current Darters only minutes after entering the water near Bubbling Springs!

A second goal of the survey was to collect a few Hubbs’ Crayfish (Cambarus hubbsi), an Ozark endemic, for a study being conducted by researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey and funded by a State Wildlife Grant. This olive-tan, powerfully built crayfish has been described by Dustin as, “a little tank.” With thick pincers and a broad thick torso, it excavates tunnels beneath rubble and boulders on the stream bottom. Numerous Hubbs’ Crayfish were found in Rock Creek, as well as Mammoth Spring Crayfish (Faxonius marchandi), another Ozark endemic. Mammoth Spring Crayfish are rare in terms of their overall small range, restricted to just a couple of counties in Arkansas and one in adjacent Missouri, but they are one of the most common species at Rock Creek. Like many Ozark endemics, these two crayfish species depend on high water quality in spring-fed systems such as Rock Creek and Bubbling Springs for their continued survival.

In addition to aquatic surveys, Lynch and Olsen made note of birds they saw and heard during the day, reporting 12 species. Coats recorded plant and animal species as part of a bioblitz for a class project. I took photos of plants and butterflies, and collected a few plant specimens.

Our successful day of surveying would not have been possible without the expertise and assistance of Olsen, Stroman, and Coats. Lynch states, “Partnerships are the heart of 90 percent of the work I do at ANHC. As the only aquatic specialist on staff, the only way I am able to carry out a lot of the work I do is through cooperation with folks from other state and federal agencies, nonprofits, and universities. I’m really lucky that I regularly get to do that kind of work with people who happen to also be good friends.”


Top left, pictured left to right -- Maddie Coats, Dustin Lynch, Brie Olsen, and Justin Stroman, photo by Leslie Patrick.

Middle left -- Current Darter (Etheostoma uniporum) at Rock Creek Natural Area, photo by Dustin Lynch.

Bottom left, pictured left to right -- Dustin Lynch, Brie Olsen, and Justin Stroman looking for the Current Darter (Etheostoma uniporum) at Rock Creek Natural Area, photo by Leslie Patrick.

Bottom right, pictured left to right -- Mammoth Spring Crayfish (Faxonius marchandi) and Hubbs' Crayfish (Cambarus hubbsi), photo by Leslie Patrick.


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