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Biodiversity Blog


Native Fish Conservation and the Fishes of Texas Project

By Gary Garrett (Ichthyology Collection) 

Native fish conservation areas of Texas.

Freshwater fishes and the ecosystems they depend upon are experiencing massive degradation on a global scale. The American Fisheries Society estimates that around 40% of the freshwater fishes in North America are imperiled. Our studies show that in Texas, 48% of our native fishes are of conservation concern. This is primarily due to the alteration of freshwater systems by human activities, which continues to occur at rates and scales that threaten the long-term resiliency of freshwater ecosystems. These anthropogenic stressors are exacerbated by climate change. Innovative, systematic, data-driven, and coordinated conservation approaches are needed to restore and maintain watershed processes, habitats, and native species, while simultaneously supporting human needs.

The Fishes of Texas Project (FoTX; http://www.fishesoftexas.org), based in the Biodiversity Center’s Ichthyology Collection, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department used the FoTX data in systematic, collaborative, watershed-based conservation planning to create a statewide network of 20 Native Fish Conservation Areas (NFCAs). The NFCAs Network consists of springs, ciénegas, creeks, rivers, and associated watersheds uniquely valued for preservation of Texas freshwater fish diversity.

Kayaks in the Devils River Native Fish Conservation Area. Photo by Chase A. Fountain, ©Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The foundational data used to create these conservation areas are the museum specimen data provided by the FoTX Project, which includes specimens held in 42 museums (including our own), collected from the 1850s to present. NFCAs were determined based on spatial prioritization algorithms that utilized Species Distribution Models (http://www.fishesoftexas.org/models/) for 91 freshwater fishes considered species of greatest conservation need, as well as watershed characteristics and presence of habitat conditions necessary to fulfill their life histories. These NFCAs thus represent “native fish strongholds” and are considered priority landscapes for natural resource conservation investments. Each NFCA has its own group of stakeholders (landowners, non-governmental organizations, state and federal agencies, universities, and local governments) who meet to collaboratively prioritize conservation projects to benefit native fish communities. These meetings catalyze collaborative, science-based stewardship of native freshwater fishes and aquatic habitats and encourage and facilitate coordination among stakeholders to achieve landscape-scale conservation within their focal watersheds. All NFCAs have eight common goals that serve as thematic topics to facilitate cooperative planning and identification of specific conservation needs, related conservation strategies, conservation actions, and research and monitoring needs:

  1. Protect & maintain intact habitats
  2. Restore altered habitats
  3. Restore instream & floodplain connectivity
  4. Mitigate invasive species effects
  5. Organize & facilitate conservation partnership networks
  6. Establish conservation demonstration areas
  7. Conduct research on critical science needs
  8. Monitor conservation outcomes & perform adaptive management
Big Bend Ranch State Park, part of the Upper Big Bend Native Fish Conservation Area. Photo by Chase A. Fountain, ©Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Although developed primarily in Texas, there is broad application potential and transferability to other states and countries. The concept has been encouraged through symposia at recent scientific conferences and in a book entitled “Multispecies and Watershed Approaches to Freshwater Fish Conservation” to be published by the American Fisheries Society in summer 2019.

The network of Native Fish Conservation Areas serves as a geographic focus for advocacy of freshwater systems, and aids in promoting awareness of the ecological, recreational, and economic values of freshwater systems. This approach to native fish conservation provides an effective method for addressing the common nature and magnitude of threats facing species and their habitats in freshwater systems. Additional details for each NFCA and the corresponding conservation efforts can be found at https://nativefishconservation.org/.


fish1   fish2
Big Bend NFCAs - Rhinichthys cataractae Longnose Dace (Image © Joseph R. Tomelleri) Upper Brazos River NFCA - Anguilla rostrata American Eel (Image © Joseph R. Tomelleri)
 fish3  fish4
Central Edwards Plateau Rivers NFCA - Micropterus treculii Guadalupe Bass (Image © Joseph R. Tomelleri)  Northeast Texas Rivers NFCA - Atractosteus spatula Alligator Gar (Image © Joseph R. Tomelleri)

Gary Garrett's profile can be seen here

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