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2009 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 8(3):527–536
Fish Assemblage of a Cypress Wetland within an Urban
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.
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
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 -
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.
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).
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.
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
Lepisosteus oculatus Winchell (Spotted Gar) 2 0 0 2 0 0 2
Amia calva L. (Bowfin) 0 0 1 1 0 0 1
Minytrema melanops Rafinesque (Spotted Sucker) 0 0 1 1 0 0 1
Esox niger Lesueur (Chain Pickerel) 1 0 0 1 0 0 1
Aphredoderus sayanus Gilliams (Pirate Perch) 1 7 3 11 0 0 11
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
Gambusia affinis Baird and Girard (Western Mosquitofish) 13 20 718 708 9 34 751
Labidesthes sicculus Cope (Brook Silverside) 0 3 0 3 0 0 3
Elassoma zonatum Jordan (Banded Pygmy Sunfish) 3 1 9 4 4 5 13
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
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).
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.
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
Mingo Swamp, MO Bottomland hardwood 19 12 Finger and Stewart 1987
Cache River, AR Bottomland hardwood 35 8 Killgore and Baker 1996
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
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
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. Currently, Gillam Park Wetland represents a
declining habitat and is a valuable biological and educational resource.
We would like to thank Bonnie Earleywine, Anna Squire, and Robert Clark for
help in the field and in the laboratory. Mary Smith and Kevin Pierson of Audubon
Arkansas provided invaluable assistance in many ways that facilitated the completion
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