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Observations of Notropis photogenis (Silver Shiner) and
Etheostoma zonale (Banded Darter) in the Flint River, Alabama
Bruce Stallsmith1,* and Brian Thompson1
Abstract - Notropis photogenis (Silver Shiner) and Etheostoma zonale (Banded Darter) were collected
from the Flint River in Madison County, AL, a northern tributary to the Tennessee River.
Both species have been found in other northern tributaries to the Tennessee River in Alabama, but
have not been widely reported from the Flint River. The Flint River is currently considered to be
impaired water due to elevated turbidity, and has also been impaired in recent years from organic
enrichment/low dissolved oxygen and pathogens in the form of fecal coliform.
The south bend of the Tennessee River in north Alabama defines a drainage containing
a large part of Alabama’s diverse fish fauna, with 163 recognized species to date
(Boschung and Mayden 2004). Many species found in this drainage are at the southern
edge of ranges that often extend well to the north in the Mississippi, Ohio or Great Lakes
drainages. Two such species are the cyprinid Notropis photogenis Cope (Silver Shiner)
and the percid Etheostoma zonale Cope (Banded Darter). Both species are known from
some of the northern tributaries to the Tennessee River in Alabama. The Banded Darter
has not been observed in the Flint River, one of the larger tributaries in the southern bend
of the Tennessee (Boschung and Mayden 2004, Lee et al. 1980, Mettee et al. 1996). The
Silver Shiner has not been reported as present in the Flint River in those three references,
but has been observed in the river in an erratic fashion since 1971 in less widely circulated
literature (Mettee et al. 2002, Shepard et al. 2009, TVA 1971). We have recently found
both species in the Flint River independently. The status of the Silver Shiner, especially,
may be sensitive to human influences on the river .
Much of the Flint River has been listed as impaired water since 2000 due to organic
enrichment/low dissolved oxygen levels, pathogens (fecal coliform), or turbidity
(ADEM 2000, US EPA 2012, Hoos et al. 2002, TDEC 2000). A 15.32-mile segment
of the river, from Highway 72 north to Mountain Fork, was first placed on the State
of Alabama’s §303(d) use-impairment list for pathogens in 2000. The source of the
pathogens was listed as pasture grazing. This segment of the Flint River is still listed
as impaired for turbidity, but is no longer listed for organic enrichment/low dissolved
oxygen levels or pathogens.
The Silver Shiner has been known from Shoal Creek in Lauderdale County and the
Elk River system in Limestone County, AL, from sites very close to the Tennessee state
line to the north (Boschung and Mayden 2004). The species is typically found in moderate-
to high-gradient, clear, weedless streams over sand and gravel. Mettee et al. (1996)
describe the species as “a rare occupant of Alabama waters.” Biologists with the Tennessee
Valley Authority (TVA) found Silver Shiners in the Flint River in 1969 (TVA 1971),
but repeated efforts by the Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA) to find the species were
unsuccessful (Mettee et al. 2002). Multiple collections of Silver Shiners have been made
since 1996 at Shoal Creek and in the Elk River and its tributary Sugar Creek (Mettee et
al. 2002, Shepard et al. 2009). A survey team from the GSA also found Silver Shiners
at 3 locations in the Flint River since 2002 (Pat O’Neil, Geological Survey of Alabama,
Tuscaloosa, AL, unpubl. data).
1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, AL 35899.
*Corresponding author – email@example.com.
Notes of the Southeastern Naturalist, Issue 11/4, 2012
780 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 11, No. 4
The conservation status of the Silver Shiner in Alabama is rated by NatureServe
(2011) as S1 (critically imperiled), while the global status is G5 (secure) in its range as
far north as Ontario. Boschung and Mayden (2004) recommend special concern status in
Alabama. The state of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ranks
the Silver Shiner as a P3 species, of moderate conservation con cern.
We first found Silver Shiners by chance in the Flint River in June 2011. The site is in
Madison County, 1.3 km WSW of Bell Factory, downstream from the Winchester Road
bridge (34°49'17''N, 86°28'58"W). The river here is about 35 m wide, with a 200-m-long
shallow riffle over a substrate of broken sandstone bedrock ending in a slightly deeper run
over mixed bedrock and sand. Using a seine with the measurements 4 m long by 1.2 m
deep, 5 Silver Shiners were collected at this site in June 2011, 8 were collected in July
2011, 25 were collected in August 2011, and 11 were collected in September 2011. The
standard length of specimens ranged between 50 mm and 110 mm. Two individuals from
the June 2011 collection were examined by Dave Neely and confirmed as Silver Shiners
(D. Neely, Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, TN, pers. comm.). Specimens from the
July collection are now catalogued in the University of Alabama Ichthyology Collection,
The Banded Darter has a wide range within the Mississippi basin, with 3 disjunct
populations in the Ouachita Highlands, the upper Mississippi valley, and the upper Great
Lakes, including northern Illinois and Indiana, and the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. The
species has been reported from a wider range of Alabama streams than the Silver Shiner.
In Alabama, Mettee et al. (1996) collected Banded Darters in northern tributaries to the
Tennessee River in Shoal and Cypress Creeks, the Paint Rock and Elk river systems, and
a single collection from a southern tributary, Bear Creek. Boschung and Mayden (2004)
report the same range as Mettee et al. (1996). The species’ conservation status in Alabama
is reported as S2 (imperiled) by NatureServe (2011) with a global status of G5. The
Banded Darter has no state-protected status in Alabama.
We first found and identified Banded Darters by chance in September 2010 in the Flint
River at the same site and with the same method as described above for Silver Shiners.
The species is very common in the riffles, especially the highest-gradient riffles, with
extensive moss beds covering the boulders. Other species found in these riffles include
the percids Etheostoma rufilineatum Cope (Redline Darter), E. blennioides Rafinesque
(Greenside Darter), and E. caeruleum Storer (Rainbow Darter) and the cyprinid Erimystax
insignis Hubbs and Crowe (Blotched Chub). Specimens collected in November 2010
are catalogued at the University of Alabama Ichthyology Collection, UAIC 15752.01.
In the Flint River, both of these species are most commonly found in fast-flowing
water in areas of moderate to high gradient over a substrate of boulder, cobble, and
gravel. At the far northern limit of its range in Ontario, the Silver Shiner is described
as rheophilic, found in relatively high-gradient streams (McKee and Parker 1982). The
Banded Darter also prefers rocky riffles and fast but not necessarily torrential flow over
cobble and gravel (Boschung and Mayden 2004). Both species have also been found 6
km downstream from the original collection site. Not too far downstream from this point
the Flint River is probably unsuitable habitat for both species, as current slows down and
depth increases before the river empties into the impounded Tennessee River.
Both species are at the far southern edge of their range, and presumably at the upper
limit of their thermal tolerance. The Banded Darter is one of the two most abundant
darter species in this 6-km stretch of the Flint River, being the most common darter
in the riffles, while Etheostoma duryi Henshall (Black Darter) is the most common
darter in slower water near shore (B. Stallsmith and B. Thompson, unpubl. data). Silver
2012 Southeastern Naturalist Notes 781
Shiners can be observed in loose schools of 10–20 individuals in the middle of the river,
and are hard to catch in deeper, faster-flowing water, while other local cyprinids such as
Luxilus chrysocephalus Rafinesque (Striped Shiner) and Blotched Chub are more common
in slower side channels or in shallow water near shore.
The water quality in the Flint River has been recognized as impaired in various ways
since 2000, largely from nonpoint-source agricultural inputs such as bovine fecal matter.
Water quality is also threatened by the effects of the suburban expansion of nearby Huntsville,
AL. The river basin is being rapidly developed, and what was historically farmland
is becoming suburban development with different nonpoint-source pollutants: soil runoff,
lawn nutrient loading, and trash deposition. The Silver Shiner in particular is very sensitive
to this kind of stress, even more than the Banded Darter, needing cool, clean water.
In late summer, benthic macroalgae blooms form in the stretch of Flint River where
Silver Shiners have been found, often a sign of nutrient loading. Remediation efforts by
the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Tennessee Department
of Environment and Conservation have recently improved river water quality in terms of
pathogens and organic enrichment, but turbidity still exceeds federal standards (US EPA
2012). Episodes of elevated pollution may have interfered with Silver Shiner reproduction
and survival in recent decades, making the species more difficult to find. Even with
this expansion of the known range of the Silver Shiner in Alabama, the current state status
for this species of P3 (moderate conservation concern) is warra nted.
Acknowledgments. We would like to thank the BYS 315 Ichthyology class at the
University of Alabama in Huntsville for help collecting Silver Shiners, Dave Neely for
confirming their identity, and Pat O’Neil for making available GSA data. Jeremy Conant,
Robert Hanson, and Alex Hazelwood helped with the collection of both Banded Darters
and Silver Shiners. The comments of two reviewers improved this manuscript.
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