Excessive sedimentation of rivers and creeks has been linked to increasing levels of imperilment in the diverse fish fauna of the southeastern United States. In particular, benthic-spawning fishes have decreased in both numbers and range. The tricolor shiner Cyprinella trichroistia is a crevice-spawning minnow that is widespread in the eastern Mobile River drainage above the Fall Line. While they are less sensitive to perturbation than the federally threatened blue shiner C. caerulea, tricolor shiners have decreased in numbers and range during the past few decades. This experiment examined the effects of 0 (control), 100, 300, and 600 mg/L initial concentrations of suspended sediment on the reproductive success of the tricolor shiner. Increasing levels of suspended sediment caused decreasing levels of reproductive success (fewer spawns and fewer eggs laid when spawning occurred). Increasing levels of suspended sediment also delayed the onset of spawning, resulting in distinct frequency distributions of clear eggs, eyed eggs, and larvae across treatments. Mortality of eggs and larvae was not a factor in the experiment. We examined daily sediment concentration data recorded at three sites in the upper Coosa River over the April-August spawning season of 1963. By weighting our experimental results by the number of days above each sediment concentration, we estimated that 20% fewer eggs were laid than would have been laid if conditions had been like those of the controls. Albeit our model is simplistic, it provides insight into how excessive sedimentation contributes to population extirpation. Mitigation of suspended sediments is an important management action for the conservation of southern Appalachian fishes that spawn in benthic habitats.
Additional publication details
Effects of suspended sediment on the reproductive success of the tricolor shiner, a crevice-spawning minnow