Notropis girardi

Arkansas River Shiner

FWS Focus



Rivers of the southern Great Plains are some of the most dynamic and harsh river environments in the world. Stream temperatures may reach up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit during heat of the summer, while river flows range from overtopping their banks, to long dry sections of river where only small isolated pools exist. This environment may not sound like an oasis for aquatic life, but many organisms, including the Arkansas River shiner (Notropis girardi), are well-equipped to handle these types of conditions. 

Although the Arkansas River shiner is specialized to persist under this harsh environment, changes to large prairie rivers since the early 1980s have led to the species' decline. The Arkansas River shiner was once widespread throughout the southern Great Plains, and historically inhabited large sand bed rivers like the Arkansas River in Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. They also historically inhabited the Cimarron River, which runs through Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as the North Canadian and Salt Fork of the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, with a range of more than 3,200 river miles. Today, the shiner is known only to occur in the South Canadian River, from far eastern New Mexico, through the Texas panhandle and downstream into Oklahoma, with only 17% of its historic range remaining.  

In 1998, the Arkansas River shiner was federally-listed as a threatened species, based on reductions of the species’ range and numbers that were due primarily to habitat destruction and modification through channelization, construction of impoundments, stream dewatering, diversion of surface water, groundwater pumping and water quality degradation.

Partnerships focusing on water conservation that will support natural flow regimes to maintain river connectivity and habitat complexity are essential to conservation and recovery of the species. For more detail on why water conservation and natural flow regimes are important for the Arkansas River shiner, refer to the habitat and reproduction sections of the species profile.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). 2018. Species status assessment report for the Arkansas River shiner (Notropis girardi) and peppered chub (Macrhybopsis tetranema), version 1.0, with appendices. October 2018. Albuquerque, NM. 172 pp.

Scientific Name

Notropis girardi
Common Name
Arkansas River shiner
FWS Category

Location in Taxonomic Tree


Identification Numbers



Characteristic category



Within the Arkansas River Basin, the Arkansas River shiner historically occupied main channels of wide, shallow, sandy bottomed rivers and larger streams, as documented by G.A. Moore in 1944. Adults prefer shallow channels where currents flow over clean fine sand and generally avoid calm waters and silted stream bottoms, as documented by L.D. Lewis and W.W. Dalquest in 1955 and confirmed by many researchers during subsequent research in the decades to follow. The species has adaptations to tolerate the adverse conditions of the drought-prone prairie streams they inhabit, including a high capacity to endure elevated temperatures and low dissolved oxygen concentrations, as documented by W.J. Matthews in 1987 and later confirmed by his further research with K.M. Polivka in 1997. 

Cross, F.B. 1967. Handbook of Fishes of Kansas. State Biological Survey and the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History. pp 135-137.

Lewis, L.D., and W.W. Dalquest. 1955. Basic survey of and inventory of species of fishes present in, and their distribution in, the Canadian River in Texas, including the following counties: Hartley, Oldham, Potter, Moore, Carson, Hutchinson, Roberts, Hemphill, and Lipscomb. Report for the State of Texas. 16 pp.

Matthews, W.J.  1987.  Physicochemical tolerance and selectivity of stream fishes as related to their geographic ranges and local distributions. pp. 111-120 in W.J. Matthews and C.C. Heins, eds. Community and Evolutionary Ecology of North American Stream Fishes. Univ. Okla. Press. Norman, OK. 299 pp.

Moore, G. A. 1944. Notes on the early life history of Notropis girardi. Copeia 1944:209-214.

Polivka, K.M., and W.J. Matthews. 1997. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Final Report Section 6 Endangered Species Act Federal Aid Project E-33 Habitat Requirements of the Arkansas River Shiner, Notropis girardi. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 33 pp.

Wilde, G.R., T.H. Bonner, and R. Patiño. 2000. Habitat use and ecology of the Arkansas River shiner and speckled chub in the Canadian River, New Mexico and Texas report: final submission to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). 176 pp.


Land on which the natural dominant plant forms are grasses and forbs.

River or Stream

A natural body of running water.

Springs or Seeps

Areas where ground water meets the surface.

Characteristic category



Arkansas River shiners are a member of a reproductive guild, known as pelagic broadcast spawners, that broadcast spawns semibuoyant eggs, which are kept suspended and hatch in flowing water. This reproductive strategy appears to be an adaptation to highly variable environments where stream flows are unpredictable and suspended sediments and shifting sand can cover eggs laid in nests or crevices, noted T.H. Bonner in 2000. Without stream flow, eggs sink to the bottom where they may be covered with silt and die, as documented by S.P. Platania and C.S. Altenbach in 1998. After hatching, the fish larvae will continue to develop in the stream current. It takes approximately three to five days for eggs and larvae to develop before the larvae are capable of moving out of the main channel to seek refuge, as documented by G.A. Moore in 1944 and confirmed by S.P. Platania and C.S. Altenbach in 1998. This downstream movement during the three to five day period makes a river length of more than 130 miles essential for their successful development, noted S.P. Platania and C.S. Altenbach in 1998 and confirmed by G.R. Wilde and others in 2000 and later by J.S. Perkin and K.B. Gido a decade later. 

A natural flow regime that supports wide, shallow braided rivers, which characteristic channel complexity, and a connection to the floodplain, also is essential for attenuating downstream movement of eggs and larvae. This allows for a shorter distance to develop and seek refuge, as compared to a single-threaded and narrower channel that has higher velocities, as documented by T.A. Worthington and others in 2014. Without moderate to high flow events and maintenance of historical base flows, vegetation begins to encroach within the banks and results in a narrower river over time, as documented by N.L. Poff and others in 1997 and later confirmed by C.S. Mammoliti in 2002. As the river becomes more entrenched and narrows, habitat complexity that is typical of a wide and shallow Great Plains river is lost, and the river’s connection to its historical floodplain is diminished. An adequate combination of river length, as well as a natural flow regime and sufficient degree of channel complexity and floodplain connection, should allow the species to repopulate upstream areas that would otherwise not occur if eggs and larva are transported downstream over greater distances, noted R.K. Dudley and S.P. Platania in 1999, as well as T.H. Bond and others in 2000 and later by T.A. Worthington and others in 2014.

Bond, N.R., G.L.W. Perry, and B.J. Downes, 2000. Dispersal of organisms in a patchy stream environment under different settlement scenarios. Journal of Animal Ecol. 69(4):608-619.

Bonner, T.H. 2000. Life history and reproductive ecology of the Arkansas River shiner and peppered chub in the Canadian River, Texas and New Mexico. Dissertation, Texas Tech University. 31 pp.

Dudley, R.K., and S.P. Platania. 1999. Imitating the physical properties of drifting semibuoyant fish (Cyprinidae) eggs with artificial eggs. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 14(4):423-430.

Mammoliti, C.S. 2002. The effects of small watershed impoundments on native stream fishes: a focus on the Topeka shiner and hornyhead chub. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 105(3):219-231.

Moore, G. A. 1944. Notes on the early life history of Notropis girardi. Copeia 1944:209-214.

Perkin J.S., and K.B. Gido. 2011. Stream fragmentation thresholds for a reproductive guild of Great Plains fishes. Fisheries 36(8):371-383.

Platania, S. P., and C. S. Altenbach. 1998. Reproductive strategies and egg types of seven Rio Grande Basin cyprinids. Copeia 1998(3):559-569.

Poff, N.L., J.D. Allan, M.B. Bain, J.R. Karr, K.L. Prestegaard, B.D. Richter, R.E. Sparks, and J.C. Stromberg. 1997. The natural flow regime. BioScience 47(11):769-784.

Wilde, G.R., T.H. Bonner, and R. Patiño. 2000. Habitat use and ecology of the Arkansas River shiner and speckled chub in the Canadian River, New Mexico and Texas report: final submission to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). 176 pp.

Worthington, T.A., S.K. Brewer, N.Farless, T.B. Grabowski, and M.S. Gregory. 2014. Interacting effects of discharge and channel morphology on transport of semibuoyant fish eggs in large, altered river systems. PLoS ONE 9(5):e96599.



The Arkansas River shiner was once widespread and common in the western portion of the Arkansas River basin in Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. This species is no longer found in more than 83% of its historical range, or 3,896 river miles, and now appears to be entirely restricted to two portions of the South Canadian River, which is identified as Canadian River on U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps:

  • Downstream from Ute Reservoir in eastern New Mexico - including a 10 mile stretch of the downstream portion of Revuelto - to the top of Lake Meredith in the Texas panhandle, running 171 river miles
  • Downstream of Lake Meredith in the Texas panhandle to the upper end of Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma, running 515 river miles

A non-native, introduced population of the Arkansas River shiner occurs in the Pecos River in New Mexico, just outside of the species’ historical range, which is not federally-listed under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). 2018. Species status assessment report for the Arkansas River shiner (Notropis girardi) and peppered chub (Macrhybopsis tetranema), version 1.0, with appendices. October 2018. Albuquerque, NM. 172 pp.

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