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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

The Topeka Shiner in Iowa: A True Example of Strategic Habitat Conservation

Region 3, April 6, 2012
Male Topeka shiner found in a restored oxbow.
Male Topeka shiner found in a restored oxbow. - Photo Credit: n/a
An oxbow of Cedar Creek in Greene County, Iowa prior to restoration by the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to benefit Topeka shiners.
An oxbow of Cedar Creek in Greene County, Iowa prior to restoration by the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to benefit Topeka shiners. - Photo Credit: n/a
An oxbow of Cedar Creek in Greene County, Iowa after restoration by the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to benefit Topeka shiners.
An oxbow of Cedar Creek in Greene County, Iowa after restoration by the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to benefit Topeka shiners. - Photo Credit: n/a
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Biologist Aleshia Kenney and some happy landowners take time for a picture after searching their restored oxbow for Topeka shiners.
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Biologist Aleshia Kenney and some happy landowners take time for a picture after searching their restored oxbow for Topeka shiners. - Photo Credit: n/a

From what started as just a pitch to a few skeptical landowners in the early 2000s, has turned into a true success story. Blending the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program with endangered species habitat restorations truly demonstrates true strategic habitat conservation - especially when it works as well as Iowa restoration efforts have for the Topeka shiner.

 

The Topeka shiner, listed as federally endangered in 1998, was once found in many streams and rivers throughout Iowa. Now, because of habitat reductions, that range has been reduced to the North Raccoon River and its tributaries, with smaller populations in the Boone, Rock and Little Rock Rivers. Topeka shiners prefer quiet, open pools of small prairie streams. Back in the days when Iowa was covered in prairie, these streams used to naturally meander, creating cut-offs of the outside loops of the main stream. These loops became U-shaped ponds known as oxbows, which reconnected to the stream during high water. These oxbows provided the perfect quiet, pool-like habitat that Topeka shiners prefer. The problem is that over time these naturally meandering prairie streams have been straightened and channelized causing natural oxbows to disappear, along with any natural pools found within the stream. The few oxbows that do remain along these streams have filled with sediment over time and only hold water part of the year. Topeka shiners still get in these oxbows during flood events, only to die when summer comes around and the oxbows dry up.

In 2000. the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, in partnership with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, started talking to landowners with restorable habitat for the Topeka shiner. Service staff were met with a lot of adversity at first, but a few conservation-minded landowners decided to give oxbow restoration a try. Restoration consisted of digging out the sedimentation that had occurred in the oxbow, taking the depth back down to where the original stream used to flow, allowing the oxbow to hold water year round. The results were outstanding. Not only did Topeka shiners show up in the restored oxbows, but other landowners heard of the success and began calling Service biologists to start restorations on their property as well.

Many more conservation partners jumped on board including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy. To date the Partners Program, along with these partners, has restored 40 oxbows in the North Raccoon River watershed and one in the Boone River watershed, with more restorations in both watersheds planned in 2012. Many of the restored oxbows are now supporting Topeka shiner populations and reproduction of Topeka shiners has been documented in restored oxbows. In 2009, researchers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found 354 Topeka shiners in one restored oxbow alone!

The benefits of these oxbow restoration projects extend beyond that of just the Topeka shiner, since these these wetlands produce abundant quantities of food for amphibians, reptiles and migrating birds - especially waterfowl. Even small sites, much less than an acre, can produce hundreds of frogs, toads and salamanders. These wetlands will provide habitat for the endangered Topeka shiner and other fish of the adjacent streams, as well as for reptiles, amphibians and birds with similar habitat requirements. Wetlands also provide water quality benefits and will improve water quality in these watersheds which are primarily agricultural.

Contact Info: Aleshia Kenney, 309-757-5800 ext. 218, aleshia_kenney@fws.gov