Recovering Aquatic Life in Missouri
By Trisha Crabill, Bryan Simmons,
Shauna Marquardt, and Amy Salveter
Columbia Ecological Services Field Office
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, the Service is featuring endangered species stories on each of the 50 states throughout the year. More about the Endangered Species Act 40th anniversary and other endangered species conservation articles can be found at http://www.fws.gov/endangered/
With 110,000 miles of rivers and streams, and over 3,000 springs, Missouri is blessed with an abundance of water. Clean and healthy waterways are a critical need that people and wildlife share. Efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners to recover Missouri's endangered aquatic life have the added benefit of improving water quality.
Some Ozark Highland streams are home to the federally endangered Ozark hellbender. These large salamanders spend their lives in clear, cool spring-fed streams, under large rocks or in crevices. For reasons that remain unclear, hellbender populations declined dramatically in the 1990s. In Fall 2011, with support from the Service and state fish and wildlife agencies, the St. Louis Zoo successfully fertilized a clutch of eggs—a significant milestone for a captive breeding program that was 10 years in the making.
From these eggs, 165 hellbenders hatched—a huge stride in recovery for the species. In addition to successful captive breeding, scientists have become adept at locating eggs in the wild. The result of both efforts is over 2,400 Ozark hellbenders slated for release back into Ozark streams. Young hellbenders are held in captivity until they reach larger sizes so they stand a better chance for survival when they are released into the wild. With this approach, biologists can stabilize hellbender populations until causes of their declines are addressed.
The Neosho mucket is a freshwater mussel that is unique to the upper Arkansas River system. This species is easily distinguished from other similar mussels by the brilliant green rays on its shell.
Like many mussels, Neosho mucket populations have long been dwindling—the result of heavy-metal mining, poor farming practices, impoundments and excessive turbidity. Today, only a single healthy population remains in Missouri, in the Spring River near Joplin. The Service is working with Missouri State University and state fish and wildlife agencies on research and conservation. As a result, our knowledge of mussel propagation progressed rapidly and we are now growing mussels in captivity, from their microscopic larval stage up to two inches in length. Biologists plan to laser-engrave a mark on their shells to track them after release into the wild. Using this culture and stocking standard, we can return them to historical habitats and monitor their progress as steps are taken on the landscape to ensure water quality continues to improve.
The grotto sculpin is a cave-dwelling fish known only in Perry County, Missouri, in five cave systems and two surface streams. The species exists in isolated populations in an area of the state that is characterized by thousands of sinkholes and over 700 caves, known as the karst system. The aquatic habitats this species depends on are especially vulnerable because of the nature of water movement through karst geology. Contaminants and sediment can move rapidly from the surface through sinkholes and degrade underground water sources.
After proposing to list the grotto sculpin as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in September 2012, citizens of Perry County organized to develop the Perry County Community Conservation Plan in cooperation with the Service. The purpose of the plan is to develop and carry out measures to improve water quality to benefit the grotto sculpin, as well as the people who live in Perry County. Fifty-six local groups signed the plan, along with other state and federal agencies. Citizens leading the effort believe the greatest benefits will be realized by encouraging and supporting conservation at the grassroots level.
Forty years ago, the Endangered Species Act was passed after highly visible species including the grizzly bear, the black-footed ferret and the Florida panther were nearly lost to extinction. But many animals subsequently listed are less charismatic and not well known—a number of them living out of plain site in rivers and underground cave systems. Their existence highlights the incredible diversity of our natural world, and their conservation often benefits humans as well as other animal species.
For more information on endangered species in the Midwest, go to www.fws.gov/endangered/