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Distribution of Blackside Dace, Chrosomus cumberlandensis, in the Upper Tennessee River Drainage of Virginia
Christopher E. Skelton

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 12, Special Issue 4 (2013):176–180

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C.E. Skelton 2013 Southeastern Naturalist 176 Vol. 12, Special Issue 4 Distribution of Blackside Dace, Chrosomus cumberlandensis, in the Upper Tennessee River Drainage of Virginia Christopher E. Skelton* Abstract - In 1995, personnel from the Tennessee Valley Authority discovered a population of a Chrosomus sp. in the North Fork Powell River system in Lee County, VA. Subsequent survey work revealed the species to be Chrosomus cumberlandensis (Blackside Dace). Since 1999, approximately 90 sites targeting the genus have been surveyed in the upper Powell and Clinch River systems of Lee and Scott counties, VA and Hancock and Hawkins counties, TN. Chrosomus cumberlandensis was found in two creek systems in the North Fork Powell River system and a single creek system in the Upper Clinch River system. Distribution patterns and previous genetics work suggests these populations are introduced. Introduction The cyprinid genus Chrosomus is represented by at least seven species in North America, five of which occur in the southeastern United States (Etnier and Starnes 1993, Jenkins and Burkhead 1994, Skelton 2001). These minnows typically inhabit pools in small, cool streams, often hiding beneath large rocks or undercut banks. Because they are usually found in very small headwater areas, populations are often overlooked by ichthyologists and fisheries personnel. These populations are not well studied, likely due to the difficulty in accessing these areas as well as the fact that fish diversity in small streams is often quite low and seemingly uninteresting. Jenkins and Burkhead (1994) listed two members of Chrosomus occurring in Virginia, C. oreas Cope (Mountain Redbelly Dace) and C. tennesseensis (Starnes and Jenkins) (Tennessee Dace). Chrosomus oreas is common and widespread in Atlantic Slope drainages, with a few populations known from the upper Holston River (Tennessee River drainage). Chrosomus tennesseensis occurs primarily in eastern Tennessee, but like C. oreas, there are populations in headwater portions of the Holston River (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994). Blackside Dace in the Upper Tennessee River Drainage In 1995, personnel from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) collected a series of small Chrosomus minnows from Cox Creek, a tributary to the North Fork Powell River system in Lee County, VA (Fig. 1). The fish were originally identified as C. tennesseensis, which represented a substantial range extension for that species; the nearest population is approximately 150 km downstream in a tributary to the Clinch River below Norris Reservoir, TN (Etnier and Starnes *Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, GA 31061; chris.skelton@gcsu.edu. Ecology and Conservation of the Threatened Blackside Dace, Chrosomus cumberlandensis 2013 Southeastern Naturalist 12(Special Issue 4):176–180 177 C.E. Skelton 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, Special Issue 4 1993, Starnes and Jenkins 1988). Upon learning of the population, the author traveled to Cox Creek in 1999 to collect a series of adult specimens. Instead of finding C. tennesseensis, it turned out that the Chrosomus minnows in Cox Creek were C. cumberlandensis (Starnes and Starnes) (Blackside Dace). This represented the first documented occurrence of Blackside Dace in Virginia and outside of the Cumberland River drainage in Kentucky and Tennessee (Fig. 1; Bivens et al. 2013 [this issue]) A study was initiated in 2002 to determine the range extent of Blackside Dace in the North Fork Powell River system and was followed by additional surveys in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. Fish were collected with minnow traps, seines, and backpack electroshockers. Over 90 surveys targeting Chrosomus have been conducted in the Powell and Clinch River systems in southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee since 2002. The bulk of the surveys were made in Lee (≈30 sites) and Scott (≈50) counties, VA in 2002, 2005, and 2007. During the 2002 field season, C. cumberlandensis was found at a total of four survey sites in the North Fork Powell River system, including one site in Cox Creek and three sites in the Jones Creek system (Fig. 1; Strange and Skelton 2003). Blackside Dace were common to abundant in Mud Creek and Right Fork Mud Creek. Blackside Dace were not detected in the portion of Cox Creek originally surveyed by TVA in 1995, but three specimens Figure 1. Distribution of Chrosomus cumberlandensis (Blackside Dace) in southwestern Virginia. C.E. Skelton 2013 Southeastern Naturalist 178 Vol. 12, Special Issue 4 were found in an upper section of that creek. Lastly, Blackside Dace were found at a single locality in Reeds Creek, a major tributary to Jones Creek. Additional surveys targeting Blackside Dace in the Jones Creek system were conducted by Stephen McIninch and Greg Garmen in 2009 (B. Evans, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Abingdon, VA, pers. comm.). They revisited Right Fork Mud Creek and Mud Creek near the area surveyed by Strange and Skelton (2003) and found Blackside Dace still common at both sites. They also found Blackside Dace to be widespread in the Reeds Creek system and added three new localities to the one documented in 2002. Most recently, Blackside Dace were collected at the lower end of Mud Creek in April 2011 (B. Evans, pers. comm.). During the 2002 survey effort, anecdotal evidence suggested Blackside Dace were introduced into the North Fork Powell River system. First, a local fisherman was encountered setting minnow traps within the stream reach of Cox Creek where TVA first collected C. cumberlandensis in 1995. He was questioned about his typical catch, and it was obvious that he was familiar with the genus Chrosomus (“yellow finned minnows”). He suggested that they were more likely to be found upstream (which they were). Second, there was a minnow trap in Right Fork Mud Creek in the Jones Creek system where 10 specimens of C. cumberlandensis were easily collected in two seine hauls. The property owner adjacent to the stream recounted that her son collected all of his fishing minnows from the creek and added that “he often travels to fish”. It seems possible that he may have introduced the C. cumberlandensis into that creek after visiting the Cumberland River drainage in Kentucky. In 2005, Blackside Dace were discovered in McGhee and Staunton creeks, Scott County, VA. McGhee Creek is a small tributary to Staunton Creek, which is in turn a direct tributary to the Clinch River. The population in Staunton Creek appeared to be robust in 2005 when several individuals were collected in a single seine haul. Conversely, only four individuals were collected in McGhee Creek at that time. The situation seemed to indicate that the dace were introduced into Staunton Creek and moved downstream and invaded McGhee Creek. In 2007, forty-four Blackside Dace of multiple age classes were collected in McGhee Creek in a single seine haul. This creek is quite small and was reduced to isolated pools in July 2007, which aided the capture effort. It was possible to observe the dace in Staunton Creek using binoculars, and many were seen in the vicinity of the 2005 collection. Thus, Blackside Dace appeared to be flourishing in the Staunton Creek system at that time. The distribution patterns of the populations in the North Fork Powell and Clinch river systems support the proposal that Blackside Dace were introduced into the upper Tennessee River drainage in Virginia. If Blackside Dace were native to the upper Powell and Clinch rivers, one would expect to see a wider distribution; populations in both drainages are very narrowly distributed (Fig. 1). The documented use of use of minnow traps within streams where Blackside Dace were collected, as well as anecdotal evidence provided by a landowner, 179 C.E. Skelton 2013 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 12, Special Issue 4 suggest the fish were introduced via “bait bucket” introduction. Strange and Skelton (2003) reported that mitochondrial DNA haplotypes from Blackside Dace in the Jones Creek and Cox Creek systems aligned well with “haplotype 4” described by Strange and Burr (1995) for Blackside Dace within their native range in the Cumberland River drainage. This haplotype is widespread above Cumberland Falls, but is most common in the upper reaches of the Cumberland River drainage in Bell, Harlan, and Letcher counties, KY; these counties are in close proximity (by road) to the North Fork Powell River system Blackside Dace populations in Virginia. Since “haplotype 4” is so widespread, it is not possible to pinpoint the source of the Jones Creek and Cox Creek populations, but it seems likely they originated from a stream in one of the above-mentioned counties. Now that Blackside Dace are in Virginia, the possibility of them being moved to new areas in the state has increased. Anyone conducting fish surveys in the southwestern portion of the state should carefully examine all Chrosomus minnows that are encountered; juveniles and even non-breeding adults can sometimes be difficult to separate from one another. Blackside Dace were listed as threatened by the USFWS in 1987 and are now listed as threatened in the state of Virginia (USFWS 1987, VDGIF 2011). Despite these listings, the author feels these populations offer study opportunities. Since Blackside Dace have likely been introduced recently into Virginia, there is the potential to examine the dispersal ability of the species. This understanding could provide insight into potential re-colonization efforts for extirpated populations within their native range. A related topic to investigate is the effect that Blackside Dace have on populations of the native fishes with which they occur. Virginia Blackside Dace populations could also provide material for toxicological studies or brood stock for propagation efforts. Acknowledgements The USFWS, Cookeville, TN and Abingdon, VA offices provided funding for several Chrosomus survey efforts. Brian Evans (USFWS, Abingdon, VA) assisted with multiple surveys and provided lodging on many collecting trips. Geoff Call (USFWS, Cookeville, TN) organized funding efforts through his office. The 2007 surveys were funded through Mike Pinder at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Rex Strange of Southern Indiana University and Carl Williams of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) assisted on many collecting trips. Thanks to Bart Carter, Rick Bivens, and Rob Lindbom (TWRA) for assisting with surveys in Tennessee and to Chuck Sutherland for creating the range map. The manuscript was improved by comments from Mike Floyd and one anonymous reviewer. Literature Cited Bivens, R.D., B.D. Carter, C.E. Williams, E.M. Scott, Jr., D.E. Stephens, V.R. Bishop, and H.T. Mattingly. 2013. New occurrence records of Blackside Dace, Chrosomus cumberlandensis, in the Big South Fork Cumberland River drainage. Southeastern Naturalist Southeastern 12(Special Issue 4):171–175. C.E. Skelton 2013 Southeastern Naturalist 180 Vol. 12, Special Issue 4 Etnier, D.A., and W.C. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN. 681 pp. Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater Fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD. 1079 pp. Skelton, C.E. 2001. New dace of the genus Phoxinus (Cyprinidae: Cypriniformes) from the Tennessee River drainage, Tennessee. Copeia 2001:118–128. Starnes, W.C., and R.E. Jenkins. 1988. A new cyprinid fish of the genus Phoxinus (Pisces: Cypriniformes) from the Tennessee River drainage, with comments on relationships and biogeography. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 101(3):517–529. Strange, R.M., and B.M. Burr. 1995. Genetic variability and metapopulation dynamics in the federally threatened Blackside Dace, Phoxinus cumberlandensis (Pisces: Cyprinidae). Final Report. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Frankfort, KY, 39 pp. Strange, R.M., and C.E. Skelton. 2003. Distribution, origin, and taxonomic status of Phoxinus cumberlandensis and Phoxinus sp. cf. saylori in Virginia. Final Report. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Abingdon, VA. 30 pp. US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1987. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; determination of threatened species status for the blackside dace. Federal Register 52(113):22,580–22,585. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. 2011. Special Legal Status Faunal Species in Virginia. Available online at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/virginiatescspecies. pdf. Accessed 16 September 2012.