Decline of a diverse fish fauna: patterns of imperilment and protection in the Southeastern United States

  • Authors: Warren, Melvin L. Jr.; Angermeier, Paul L.; Burr, Brooks M.; Haag, Wendell R.
  • Publication Year: 1997
  • Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
  • Source: Aquatic fanua in peril: the southeastern perspective. Decatur, GA: Lenz Design & Communications: 105-164.


The Southeastern United States harbors the richest freshwater fish fauna on the North American continent north of Mexico, but portents of decline of this great fauna are increasingly acknowledged. Southeastern fishes (493 species) comprise about 47 percent of the North American fish fauna (1,061 species) and 62 percent of the fauna in the United States (790 species). Within the United States, imperilment of southeastern fishes is second only to that of western fishes. Increasing recognition of the decline of fishes and aquatic habitats in the Southeast, both harbingers of the western situation, should be the clarion call for proactivc efforts toward conservation of the richest fish fauna in the United States. Development of models associating vulnerability to the extinction process and ecological and zoogeographic characteristics of organisms and communities is a high priority for conservation biology. Aside from this effort, few related analyses are available for fishes in the Southeast. Geographic and ecological range restrictions are primary among attributes associated with many southeastern imperiled, extirpated, and extinct fishes. To date, there has been little effort to examine large-scale patterns of diversity and imperilment of southeastern fishes with the objectives of discovering general principles underlying imperilment that may be useful in proactive management or conservation triage. The authors provide a beginning toward the large-scale synthesis of accounting, and, to a limited extent, ecological information for fishes of the Southeastern United States. They present an up-to-date, comprehensive inventory of fishes of the Southeast and use geographical displays of fish and stream diversity and imperilment to convey the richness, spatial extent, and variation in these characteristics. For individual fishes and fish families, the scientists ask two questions: is range size associated with imperilment, and is imperilment a function of familial membership? For major river drainages of the Southeast, the authors pose three questions: is fish imperilment associated with drainage area, native fish taxa richness, endemism, or stream-type diversity; which of these variables are the best predictors of imperilment; and what are the implications of the identified predictors? The authors’ specific objectives are to provide an updated distributional checklist of all southeastern freshwater fishes; summarize geographical patterns of fish imperilment, fish diversity, and stream diversity by State and major rivers in the Southeastern United States; and examine relationships of numbers of imperiled taxa to native fish taxa richness, geographic range, drainage area, and stream-type diversity. They believe the maps and accompanying analyses are useful initial steps in prioritizing and coordinating conservation actions for fishes and other aquatic resources in the Southeast and in highlighting the urgent need for holistic approaches to aquatic conservation. The last line of defense against extinction of fishes in the Southeast and elsewhere in the United States is the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The authors present evidence of widespread, pervasive decline of aquatic habitats across the Southeast. The associated problems, if there is a will to correct them, are simply beyond the statutory and fiscal abilities of any one piece of legislation or Agency to correct. Shifts in management approaches could avert continued endangerment of fishes. The foundation of such an approach should include a system-led (e.g., drainage unit) rather than species-led focus; explicit biological integrity goals in the context of preventing degradation of high quality systems and restoring poor-quality systems; commitment to implementing effective land-water management practices rather than implementing bureaucracies; and recognition of land and water resources as integrated parts of the s

  • Citation: Warren, Melvin L., Jr.; Angermeier, Paul L.; Burr, Brooks M.; Haag, Wendell R. 1997. Decline of a diverse fish fauna: patterns of imperilment and protection in the Southeastern United States. Aquatic fanua in peril: the southeastern perspective. Decatur, GA: Lenz Design & Communications: 105-164.
  • Posted Date: January 1, 2000
  • Modified Date: August 22, 2006
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