Oklahoma Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office
Southwest Region

Projects & Activities

Leopard Darters of Southeastern Oklahoma

The leopard darter (Percina pantherina) is a threatened species that is endemic to the Little, Glover, and Mountain Fork River drainage systems in southeastern Oklahoma and the Cossatot River Drainage in southwestern Arkansas. This small, short lived species of darter faces problems when dealing with drought and reduction of stream flow during critical periods for spring movements during the spawn and when summer water levels are low. Routine, annual surveys are needed to closely track population trends and guide the Service in recovery efforts. Leopard darter populations were surveyed over a two-week period using underwater observation by skin or scuba diving. There are 18 permanent sampling sites and an additional 15 temporary sites that are surveyed; the temporary sites consist of areas that are surveyed every other year on a rotational basis. Data were compiled and maintained in the Tulsa Ecological Services Office.

The survey methods for leopard darters consist of using a depletion estimate methods and a visual encounter survey method. The depletion method is used at permanent sites where known populations of leopard darters occur and is completed by using seine nets or “block off nets” that are placed at a upstream and downstream boundary thus darters are captured and placed in a holding tank until surveys show that we have captured a substantial proportion of the population. The visual encounter surveys are used at temporary sites where darters are counted and then reported after a set time interval is completed. During these surveys other fish species are counted and recorded for data to help show the overall population health of each stream section that is sampled.

Arkansas River Shiner (Notropis girardi)

Oklahoma Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office completed the first status survey since 1991 in 2002 of the threatened Arkansas River shiner (ARS) in Oklahoma. Twenty-seven sites were sampled throughout the Cimarron and Canadian River drainages in 2012. This species was listed as threatened in 1998 and Critical Habitat was designated in 2001. The decline of the ARS throughout its historical range may primarily be attributed to habitat destruction and modification from inundation and alteration of stream discharge by impoundments, channel desiccation and dewatering by water diversion and groundwater mining, stream channelization, water quality degradation, and introduction of non-native species. Competition with the non-indigenous Red River shiner (Notropis bairdi) contributed to diminished distribution and abundance in the Cimarron River of Kansas and Oklahoma. Incidental capture of the ARS during pursuit of commercial bait fish species may also contribute to reduced population sizes. Drought and other natural factors also threaten the existence of the ARS.

The ARS is a small (less than 6 centimeters, 2.5 inches), stream-dwelling fish endemic to the Arkansas River system of Arkansas, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Historically, the ARS inhabited the main channels of wide, shallow, sandy-bottomed rivers and larger streams of the Arkansas River Basin (Gilbert 1980). This shiner is short lived, one to two years, and similar to the leopard darter, particularly susceptible to drought and reduced stream flow conditions during the spring spawning season and the summer. Routine, annual surveys are required to closely track population trends and guide the Service in recovery efforts.

Restoring Declining Fish Populations Before they Require Listing

Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) continue to be an important part of this station’s operation. The current range of this fish is being determined through cooperative netting efforts with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and our office. Dam construction on the Arkansas and Rid Rivers has prevented annual spring migrations of paddlefish up these two river systems and their tributaries. Most dams were closed during the low water flows of the year, while paddlefish were downstream in traditional oxbow lakes. This usually means that very few if any paddlefish are available for reproduction in the river/reservoir above the new dam. This scenario equals a quick range reduction for a species that is easily impacted by other human factors such as pollution and over-harvest.

Oklahoma FWCO is defining where paddlefish do not occur above a dam. If spawning habitat exists above a dam and the river represents traditional range, a management plan requesting the stocking of paddlefish into the reservoir will be submitted with state approval. The return of paddlefish to its original range in the Arkansas-Red River Basin has been identified as a high priority by the Ecosystem Management Team.

This office along with the Tishomingo NFH initiates brood-stock collection at the Neosho River (a tributary of the Arkansas River) of Oklahoma. The Arkansas River strain of genetics is being used to restore paddlefish at Lake Eufaula.

Oklahoma FWCO has the lead for organization and implementation of cooperative efforts to evaluate the success of the stocking program. Stock Assessment surveys were completed at Oologah Lake, Eufaula Lake, Ft. Gibson, and Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees this year. These projects were important steps necessary to identify methods and procedures which will be used to measure the degree of success.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are nonnative mussel in North America, has made its way into Oklahoma and presents a danger for Oklahoma’s aquatic ecosystems. To impede the spread of this species a monitoring plan was devised which encompassed 27 lakes and 56 sampling sites for 2012 sampling season. Sampling is a cooperative effort between this office, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Oklahoma State University, and US Army Corps of Engineers.

Oklahoma FWCO sampled a total of 17 lakes in 2011 for zebra mussels, not including the known positive lakes in the state. The samples that were taken from each lake are being analyzed by the use of cross polarized light microscopy. The use of this method allows us to take a sample and identify zebra mussel veligers or juveniles. Once a veliger is identified it is then measured to confirm if it is a zebra mussel or some other bivalve.

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Last updated: December 12, 2014