Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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AR: Researchers focus on Little Red River’s yellowcheek darter

LESLIE – Positive results aimed at boosting low numbers of a
small but significant fish in Arkansas waters have been produced by
aquatic researchers.

The yellowcheek darter is found in some feeder streams above
Greers Ferry Lake, and it has suffered during drought conditions,
said Brian Wagner, nongame aquatics biologist with the Arkansas
Game and Fish Commission.

Wagner said, “The yellowcheek darter has been officially
proposed for federal listing as an endangered species, a
designation that is likely to become final this year. Development
of this captive breeding and reintroduction technology provides us
with another tool to help save this rare Arkansas species from
extinction.”

Researchers have been able to spawn baby yellowcheek darters
under laboratory conditions and have for the first time stocked
them in one of the forks of the Little Red River.

Just what is the yellowcheek darter? Wagner said, “The
yellowcheek darter is one of the rarest fish in Arkansas. It is
only found in portions of the forks of the Little Red River above
Greers Ferry Lake in Arkansas. Darters are small, bottom-dwelling
fish that make their living darting among the rocks on the stream
bottom and eating aquatic invertebrates such as mayfly and stonefly
larvae. Yellowcheeks live in fast riffles, and unlike most other
darters they do not seem to retreat into the pools during low water
conditions.”

Research has been underway since 2002 by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Services working with Conservation Fisheries, Inc. in
Knoxville, Tenn., to develop captive breeding techniques for
yellowcheeks. Success was limited, Wagner said, so the efforts were
moved closer to their home range in 2007 as a joint project of the
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the Greers Ferry National
Fish Hatchery.

It was determined that maintaining water quality was critical
and that young yellowcheek need very small food and must be fed
frequently. It was decided in 2010 to move culture efforts to the
lab at UAPB, where feedings could be made more frequently and water
quality more closely monitored, Wagner said.

This proved successful in producing good numbers of young
yellowcheeks averaging an inch and a half long. Sixty-one of these
were stocked into the Middle Fork of the Little Red River near
Leslie recently.

Wagner said, “We have found genetic differences between
yellowcheeks in the different forks, so in order to maintain the
genetic identity of the different forks’ populations the parents of
these fish were collected from the Middle Fork and the young were
released in that same fork. The young darters were stocked in a
riffle where yellowcheeks had not been seen in recent years, in
hopes of reestablishing a population there. Each darter released
was marked with a fluorescent tag injected under the skin of its
back so we can differentiate stocked fish from possible natural
migrants and determine the effectiveness of the stocking.”

 

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