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Fish Assemblage of a Cypress Wetland within an Urban Landscape
Lucas J. Driver, Ginny L. Adams, and S. Reid Adams

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 8, Number 3 (2009): 527–536

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2009 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 8(3):527–536 Fish Assemblage of a Cypress Wetland within an Urban Landscape Lucas J. Driver1,*, Ginny L. Adams1,*, and S. Reid Adams1 Abstract - Fishes were sampled from Gillam Park Wetland, a small cypress swamp located within the city limits of Little Rock, AR during Fall 2005. The objectives of this research were to contribute to our knowledge of understudied wetland habitats in Arkansas, determine the status of the fish community in an urban wetland, and provide baseline data for future monitoring of this unique site. We collected 20 total species from three wetland sections (lower, middle, upper). Although fish community composition varied among the sections, species richness was similar across wetland sections. Fyke nets were more effective at capturing fish along the heavily vegetated and structured shorelines than either seines or funnel traps. The fish community residing in Gillam Park Wetland indicates that this “urban wetland” is functioning and seemingly healthy despite its proximity to anthropogenic impacts. Furthermore, Gillam Park Wetland is located along a major physiogeographic boundary that may play an important role in the distribution and conservation of several swamp specialist species in Arkansas. Introduction Over the past two centuries, more than half of the wetlands within the United States have been destroyed (Johnston 1994, Mitsch and Gosselink 1993). Anthropogenic activities such as modification of rivers for fl ood control and commercial navigation, urban development, agriculture, logging, and other economic endeavors were common causes underlying much of the wetland destruction (Gibbs 2000, Miranda 2005, Mitsch and Gosselink 1993). Despite heightened awareness of their ecological and socio-economic values, remaining wetlands continue to be modified, with many existing in an urbandominated landscape that will undoubtedly be further altered due to human population growth and expansion of municipalities. Several recent studies have acknowledged the importance of conserving and maintaining “urban wetlands”, and researchers have begun to address and identify the complex functions of these wetlands in urban water storage and filtration, aesthetic value, and biodiversity maintenance (Booth and Jackson 1997; Ehrenfeld 2000, 2004). The Southeast, particularly the lower Mississippi River Valley, was once rich with bottomland hardwood forests associated with river fl oodplains, but these wetlands have been largely reduced to fragmented remnants (Creasman et al. 1992, Mitsch and Gosselink 1993, Turner et al. 1981). Deep-water wetlands having a long hydroperiod and an abundance of inundated Taxodium distichum (L.) Rich (Bald Cypress) (i.e., cypress swamps) represent some of 1Department of Biology, Environmental Science Program, University of Central Arkansas, 201 Donaghey Avenue, Conway, AR 72035. *Corresponding author - gadams@uca.edu. 528 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 8, No. 3 the most distinctive habitats of the Southeast. They are described as mysterious and primordial (Mitsch and Gosselink 1993), supporting a diversity of uniquely adapted species (Gibbs 2000, Hoover and Killgore 1998, Junk et al. 1989, Ward et al. 1999, Wharton et al. 1982). Aquatic communities in cypress wetlands are not well studied relative to other aquatic systems in the Southeast, probably due to the difficulties of sampling in these heavily structured habitats (Hoover and Killgore 1998). A paucity of information on the status and ecology of fishes in cypress wetlands is unfortunate given the general plight of southern fishes (Warren et al. 2000), including region-wide decline/extinction of lowland, swamp-inhabiting fishes in portions of their ranges following extreme wetland loss and alteration (e.g., in southern Missouri; Pfl ieger 1997). Gillam Park Wetland (GPW) is a cypress swamp located in the Fourche Creek watershed of central Arkansas. Fourche Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River, is a highly urbanized system, as 90% of its watershed is within the city limits of Little Rock, the most populous city in Arkansas (Kevin Pierson, Audubon Arkansas, Little Rock, AR, pers. comm.). In 1999, 29% of the land cover of Fourche Creek watershed was urban and 60% was forested. However in 2004, just five years later, urban land use increased to 37% and forested land dropped to 52% of the watershed (The Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, University of Arkansas). With continued population growth in Little Rock and surrounding communities, it is certain these numbers have and will continue to become more urban-dominated. The wetland itself has a high potential to be impacted due to its proximity to the downtown Little Rock business district, community housing, a major transportation corridor, commercial and industrial developments, and wastewater treatment facilities. Despite its location, the wetland is relatively intact based on general appearance, and Arkansas Audubon has leased the wetland due to its ecological uniqueness and potential as an education resource. However, few data exist on the biota of GPW and its condition relative to non-urban wetlands in the region. We surveyed fishes of GPW for multiple reasons. It represents a declining, understudied habitat, and the status, abundance, and distribution of fishes residing in cypress swamps is incomplete in the Southeast. In particular, the fish fauna of lowland rivers and associated wetlands has been overlooked in Arkansas (Buchanan et al. 2003). GPW is uniquely located in proximity to the Fall Line separating two major physiographic regions, the Gulf Coastal Plain and the Interior Highlands, and may serve an important role in the distribution, dispersal, refugium, and conservation of regional swamp fishes. Knowledge of fishes can be used as an indication of health or integrity of a waterbody (Harris 1995) and could provide insight into the current status of GPW and its utility as an education resource. In addition, baseline information on fishes can be used for future monitoring of this urban wetland. Field-site Description The 140-ha Gillam Park is located 4.5 km south of downtown Little Rock in Pulaski County, AR directly south and east of the Interstate-30, I-530, and I-440 interchange (Fig. 1). The land was leased to Audubon Arkansas in 2004 and 2009 L.J. Driver, G.L. Adams, and S.R. Adams 529 designated as the future site for the Little Rock Audubon Center. Gillam Park Wetland (approximate surface area of 10 ha) is an oxbow lake of Fourche Creek and located approximately 9 km upstream of the confl uence of Fourche Creek with the Arkansas River. A manmade levee separates the wetland from Fourche Creek. Periodic connections between the wetland and the creek may be maintained via existing culverts, but the functionality of these culverts is unknown. Despite being located in an urban-dominated landscape, GPW is buffered on most sides by bottomland hardwood forest that spans from 5 to 750 m from the shoreline (Fig. 1). The wetland has a permanent hydroperiod and a maximum depth of 2 to 3 m. During this study, Bald Cypress characterized the woody vegetation along the shorelines, and was present throughout the wetland in some areas. Herbaceous aquatic vegetation abounded, dominated by Lemnaceae taxa (duckweed), Polygonum sp. (smartweed), Ludwigia sp. (water primrose), and Ceratophyllum sp. (hornworts). Methods Surveys of the fish assemblage within GPW were conducted 30–31 September and 26–27 October 2005. Upon initial inspection, the wetland was Figure 1. Satellite image (courtesy of Google Earth) of Gillam Park Wetland (bottom right) along with the location within the city limits of Little Rock (top right) and orientation along the Fall Line of the Interior Highlands and Gulf Coastal Plain lowlands (left). Gillam Park Wetland is an oxbow lake of Fourche Creek and sits just below a major highway interchange south of downtown Little Rock. Scale bar = 1 km (bottom right). 530 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 8, No. 3 stratified into three sections (lower, middle, and upper) based on an observed gradient in vegetation structure. The lower section (adjacent to Fourche Creek) was characterized by a high abundance of herbaceous aquatic vegetation (>75% coverage), rare occurrence of inundated Bald Cypress, and an open canopy. In contrast, the upper section had less inundated herbaceous aquatic vegetation (<25% coverage) and a dense, shading canopy of inundated Bald Cypress. The middle section was a transition zone characterized by intermediate amounts of herbaceous vegetation and coverage by cypress trees. Fish were sampled within each section on both collecting trips. The fish species assemblage was assessed within each of the three sections on both collecting trips using multiple sampling gears. Passive sampling was conducted with fyke nets (0.6-m x 1.2-m cab, 4.6-m lead, 3.2- mm mesh) and Vexar™-lined funnel traps as described by Clark et al. (2007) and Johnson and Barichivich (2004), respectively. Both techniques have been previously used to sample fishes in shallow (<1 m), heavily structured shoreline areas. On each sample date, two fyke nets and two funnel traps were haphazardly deployed overnight along the shoreline in each wetland section. Daytime seining (3.7m x 1.8m, 3.2-mm mesh) was performed in littoral areas conducive to active sampling; a composite sample, comprised of two 3-m seine hauls perpendicular to the shoreline, was taken in each section during both sampling dates. Individuals that could not be identified in the field were anesthetized and overdosed with tricaine methanesulfonate (MS-222) and fixed in 10% formalin. Voucher specimens were catalogued in the University of Central Arkansas Ichthyology Collection. Overall fish assemblage composition was described by combining data across all gear types, wetland sections, and sampling dates. Catch between gear types was qualitatively assessed by examining data combined across wetland sections and sampling dates. Similarity in fish composition among wetland sections was examined with Spearman’s nonparametric rank correlation (rs) using data collected with fyke nets combined across sampling dates. Rare species, those collected in only one section, were excluded from correlation analyses. Significance was evaluated at an alpha level of 0.05. Results A total of 2094 individuals, representing 20 species and 11 families, were captured from GPW (Table 1). Centrarchidae (sunfishes) and Fundulidae (killifishes) were the most-represented fish families, with 8 and 3 species, respectively. Fundulus chrysotus (Golden Topminnow) comprised 42.9% of the total catch, followed by Gambusia affinis (Western Mosquitofish; 35.8%), Lepomis symmetricus (Bantam Sunfish; 5.1%), Lepomis miniatus (Redspotted Sunfish; 3.5%), Lepomis microlophus (Redear Sunfish; 3.5%), Lepomis gulosus (Warmouth; 2.9%), and Lepomis macrochirus (Bluegill; 1.9%). Total species richness did not vary among wetland sections, but 78% of individuals were captured in the lower section, mostly due to higher abundance of Golden Topminnow and Western Mosquitofish (Table 1). Interestingly, no cyprinids (minnow) or ictalurids (catfish) were captured during sampling. 2009 L.J. Driver, G.L. Adams, and S.R. Adams 531 Table 1. Total abundance and composition of fish among wetland sections (upper, middle, and lower) and gear types (fyke net [FN], funnel trap [FT], and seine [S]) in Gillam Park Wetland during fall 2005. Wetland section Gear type Total Scientific name Upper Middle Lower FN FT S abundance Lepisosteidae Lepisosteus oculatus Winchell (Spotted Gar) 2 0 0 2 0 0 2 Amiidae Amia calva L. (Bowfin) 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 Catostomidae Minytrema melanops Rafinesque (Spotted Sucker) 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 Esocidae Esox niger Lesueur (Chain Pickerel) 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 Aphredoderidae Aphredoderus sayanus Gilliams (Pirate Perch) 1 7 3 11 0 0 11 Fundulidae Fundulus chrysotus Gunther (Golden Topminnow) 141 11 748 892 1 7 900 Fundulus notatus Rafinesque (Blackstripe Topminnow) 17 3 1 20 0 1 21 Fundulus olivaceus Storer (Blackspotted Topminnow) 3 4 0 5 0 2 7 Poeciliidae Gambusia affinis Baird and Girard (Western Mosquitofish) 13 20 718 708 9 34 751 Atherinidae Labidesthes sicculus Cope (Brook Silverside) 0 3 0 3 0 0 3 Elassomatidae Elassoma zonatum Jordan (Banded Pygmy Sunfish) 3 1 9 4 4 5 13 Centrarchidae Lepomis cyanellus Rafinesque (Green Sunfish) 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 Lepomis gulosus Cuvier (Warmouth) 16 27 18 58 2 1 61 Lepomis macrochirus Rafinesque (Bluegill) 15 17 9 39 2 0 41 Lepomis marginatus Holbrook (Dollar Sunfish) 16 2 0 18 0 0 18 Lepomis microlophus Gunther (Redear Sunfish) 21 31 20 66 5 1 72 Lepomis miniatus Jordan (Redspotted Sunfish) 35 29 11 67 7 1 75 Lepomis symmetricus Forbes (Bantam Sunfish) 7 4 95 89 13 4 106 Micropterus salmoides Lacepede (Largemouth Bass) 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 Percidae Etheostoma proeliare Hay (Cypress Darter) 3 4 1 5 1 2 8 Total Abundance 294 164 1636 1992 44 58 2094 Species Richness 15 15 14 20 9 9 20 532 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 8, No. 3 Of the three gear types, fyke nets performed the best based on examination of species richness and abundance patterns. All twenty species were captured with fyke nets, whereas nine species each were captured with funnel traps and seining (Table 1). Nine species were only present in fyke nets, including representatives of large-bodied taxa (i.e., Lepisosteus oculatus [Spotted Gar], Amia calva [Bowfin], and Minytrema melanops [Spotted Sucker]). Fyke nets accounted for 95% of the total abundance, and most species tended to be most abundant in fyke nets relative to other gears (Table 1). Correlation analysis of rank abundances indicated fish assemblage composition was not uniformly distributed across the wetland. Thirteen species were used for pair-wise comparisons of rank abundances between upper, middle, and lower wetland sections. Rank abundances were weakly but not significantly correlated between the upper and lower sections (rs = 0.34, P = 0.26). Golden Topminnow, Redear Sunfish, and Warmouth had high rank abundances in both the upper and lower sections. However, Western Mosquitofish and Bantam Sunfish were more abundant in the heavily vegetated lower section, while Redspotted Sunfish, Fundulus notatus (Blackstripe Topminnow), and Lepomis marginatus (Dollar Sunfish) were more abundant in the upper section, which had an abundance of Bald Cypress (Table 1). Fish community composition in the middle section of the wetland, having an intermediate vegetation structure, resembled both the upper and lower sections (middle vs. upper: rs = 0.58, P = 0.04; middle vs. lower: rs = 0.60, P = 0.03). Discussion Even with its proximity to a large metropolitan center and high potential for anthropogenic disturbance, Gillam Park Wetland continues to support an array of fishes consistent with expectations for a deep-water cypress swamp in Arkansas. Despite variability in sampling effort, gear types, targeted life stages, wetland surface area, and hydrological connectivity across studies, the number of species (20) and fish composition in GPW is comparable to data reported from other bottomland hardwood wetlands (Table 2). In particular, species richness in GPW was similar to that of Faulkner Lake (23 species) and Hills Lake (16 species) reported by Adams et al. (2007); both lakes are cypress swamps within the Arkansas River drainage with physical similarities to GPW, but located beyond Little Rock's urban landscape. The fish assemblage of GPW suggests this urban Bald Cypress wetland maintains a degree of ecological integrity similar to non-urbanized bottomland hardwood wetlands. Bottomland hardwood wetlands with abundant herbaceous and woody vegetation often have environmental conditions (e.g., low dissolved oxygen, pH, and conductivity) that limit fishes inhabiting them (Killgore and Hoover 2001, Matthews 1998, Mitsch and Gosselink 1993). Species residing in vegetated wetlands are generally tolerant of, or specially adapted to, these conditions and represent distinct fish communities (Baker et al. 1991; Hoover and Killgore 1998; Matthews 1998; Wharton et al. 1981, 1982). The three most abundant fishes (Golden Topminnow, Western Mosquitofish, 2009 L.J. Driver, G.L. Adams, and S.R. Adams 533 and Bantam Sunfish), as well as other species collected from GPW (Spotted Gar, Bowfin, Aphredoderus sayanus [Pirate Perch,] and Elassoma zonatum [Banded Pygmy Sunfish]), are strongly associated with sluggish, vegetated swamps and possess specialized physiological, morphological, and behavioral adaptations and life-history traits that allow them to thrive in harsh, wetland environments (Hoover and Killgore 1998, Robison and Buchanan 1988). We did not measure water-quality parameters, but the vegetation structure and fishes of GPW indicate the existence of challenging environmental conditions similar to other bottomland hardwood swamps. Vegetation structure and density can infl uence fishes in many ways (reviewed in Dibble et al. 1996), and have been observed to strongly infl uence fish assemblage composition in southeastern wetlands (Adams et al. 2007, Killgore and Hoover 2001). Similarly, we observed that spatial variability in fish assemblage composition in GPW was correlated with a gradient in vegetation structure. The lower section was characterized by high amounts of emergent, fl oating, and submersed herbaceous plants. Fishes abundant in this reach are strongly associated with submersed plants (e.g., Bantam Sunfish and Banded Pygmy Sunfish) or morphologically adapted for surfacefilm respiration (e.g., Golden Topminnow and Western Mosquitofish), an advantageous trait in hypoxic waters that probably exist in the dense beds of emergent and fl oating plants (Killgore and Hoover 2001). In contrast to the lower reach, the upper and middle sections contained less herbaceous vegetation and had more cypress providing high amounts of woody habitat. Fish species associated with the structurally complex environments created by trunks, knees, and woody debris were primarily sunfishes (e.g., Warmouth, Table 2. Fish species richness and the number of species in common with Gillam Park Wetland (GPW) (20 species) from studies in bottomland hardwood wetlands of the southeastern United States. Wetlands specifically dominated by cypress are indicated. Species in common Species with Site/state Habitat richness GPW Reference Faulkner Lake, AR Cypress swamp 23 11 Adams et al. 2007 Hills Lake, AR Cypress swamp 16 11 Adams et al. 2007 Southern FL 19 Cypress swamps 23 total 9 Main et al. 2007 (3–11 per site) Red Chute Bayou, LA Bottomland hardwood 19 14 Pezold 1998 wetland Mingo Swamp, MO Bottomland hardwood 19 12 Finger and Stewart 1987 wetland Cache River, AR Bottomland hardwood 35 8 Killgore and Baker 1996 wetland 534 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 8, No. 3 Bluegill, Dollar Sunfish, and Redspotted Sunfish). The heterogeneity of plant community structure in GPW probably enhances fish diversity within the wetland. Wetlands periodically connected to other aquatic habitats within the riverscape by fl ooding typically contain both riverine and swamp-associated fishes (Baker et al. 1991, Galat et al. 1998, Miranda 2005). Noticeably lacking from GPW were species such as Dorosoma spp. (shads), Morone spp. (temperate basses), Ictiobus spp. (buffalofishes), and Carpiodes spp. (carpsuckers), species reportedly common in the reach of Fourche Creek adjacent to the wetland (Kevin Pierson, pers. comm.) and known from other bottomland hardwood wetlands in the Southeast (Hoover and Killgore 1998). These fishes primarily reside in river channels and other connected habitats, but are known to utilize fl oodplain wetlands for feeding, spawning, and nursery habitats during seasonal fl ooding (Baker et al. 1991, Junk et al. 1989). The absence of many transient riverine fishes, the predominance of swamp-specialist fishes, and the herbaceous and woody vegetation patterns in GPW suggest little to no recent connection between the wetland and Fourche Creek. Hydrologically connected wetlands typically have higher fish diversity (Miranda 2005), but isolation may benefit wetlands existing in an urbanized watershed subject to periodic anthropogenic disturbances (e.g., irregular fl ow regimes and pollution events). The Fall Line, separating the Gulf Coastal Plain and Interior Highlands, limits the distribution of many lowland and upland fishes in Arkansas (Robison and Buchanan 1988). Cypress swamps rarely occur upstream of Little Rock within the Arkansas River system, and GPW is located very near the Fall Line. Many of the fishes in GPW (11 of 20 species) are generally or strictly associated with lowland fish communities (i.e., Spotted Gar, Bowfin, Esox niger [Chain Pickerel], Pirate Perch, Golden Topminnow, Blackstripe Topminnow, Dollar Sunfish, Redspotted Sunfish, Bantam Sunfish, Banded Pygmy Sunfish, and Etheostoma proeliare [Cypress Darter]; Robison and Buchanan 1988). GPW represents one of the most recent, westernmost records of Blackstripe Topminnow, Dollar Sunfish, Redspotted Sunfish, and Bantam Sunfish in the Arkansas River system (Robison and Buchanan 1988). The collection of Dollar Sunfish in GPW is even more significant given it is considered one of the rarest sunfishes in Arkansas (Robison and Buchanan 1988), refl ected by the fact that they were not collected during the recent sampling of 49 wetlands along the lower Arkansas River (Adams et al. 2007). In addition to its uniqueness as an urban cypress wetland, GPW, due to its proximity to the Fall Line in Arkansas, may play an important role in the distribution, dispersal, and conservation of lowland swamp fishes in the Southeast. Our analysis of fishes indicates the wetland continues to support a fauna similar to non-urban cypress wetlands and includes new distributional information for several swamp species. Presence of a forested buffer and a degree of hydrologic isolation may protect GPW from its urban surroundings. However, fishes, physiochemical parameters, and other biological communities should be monitored given the location of the wetland. Similar to findings of Clark et al. (2007), our records indicate future monitoring of fishes should 2009 L.J. Driver, G.L. Adams, and S.R. Adams 535 include use of fyke nets as they were the most effective gear type in the heavily structured habitats. 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