Etheostoma phytophilum 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Perciformes Percidae

Scientific Name: Etheostoma phytophilum Bart & Taylor, 1999
Common Name(s):
English Rush Darter

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2011-12-30
Assessor(s): NatureServe
Reviewer(s): Smith, K. & Darwall, W.R.T.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Hammerson, G.A. & Ormes, M.
This species is listed as Endangered because extent of occurrence is less than 5,000 sq km, area of occupancy is less than 50 sq km, number of locations is about 8, distribution is severely fragmented, and habitat quality (and possibly area of occupancy and number of mature individuals) is subject to continuing declines. Population size is not well known.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Range includes the upper Black Warrior River system, Alabama; the species is known from tributaries of Sipsey Fork and Locust Fork (Page and Burr 2011). All populations are above the Fall Line (Warren et al. 2000), in portions of the Cumberland Plateau and Valley and Ridge physiographic provinces (Boschung and Mayden 2004). The species currently occupies tributaries of three watersheds in three counties in Alabama: the Turkey Creek watershed (Jefferson County); the Clear Creek watershed (Winston County); and the Cove Creek watershed (Etowah County) (USFWS 2011). In the Turkey Creek watershed, the species is found in four tributaries including Beaver Creek, an unnamed tributary to Beaver Creek, the Highway 79 site, and Tapawingo or Penny Springs (USFWS 2011). In the Clear Creek watershed (which includes 89 percent of the total range), it is found in Wildcat Branch, Doe Branch, and Mill Creek (USFWS 2011). In the Cove Creek watershed, it has been found in Little Cove Creek, Cove Spring and spring run, and Bristow Creek (USFWS 2011).
Countries occurrence:
United States
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:This species is represented by about 8 occupied areas in three watersheds (USFWS 2011).

Where it occurs, the Rush Darter is apparently an uncommon species that is usually collected in low numbers (Bart and Taylor 1999). Since 1969, approximately 100 rush darters have been collected or captured and released within the species' range (compiled from Bart and Taylor 1999, Johnston and Kleiner 2001, Stiles and Blanchard 2001). Within the Clear Creek drainage in Winston County, the most individuals captured in one collection was six (6) from Mill Creek in August 2001 (Johnston and Kleiner 2001). Bart and Taylor (1999) reported collecting up to 11 individuals during a survey of Wildcat Branch between 1990 and 1993. However, only one individual was collected by Johnston and Kleiner (2001) in August 2001 at a road crossing of Wildcat Branch, and Stiles and Blanchard (2001) did not collect Rush Darters in that locality later that same month after several attempts. In Jefferson County, collections have also been sporadic, with four individuals recorded at the Penny Springs site (Stiles and Blanchard 2001), seven individuals at the unnamed spring run that is the type locality (Stiles and Blanchard 2001, Drennen pers. obs. 2001), and only one individual at a bridge crossing over the same unnamed spring run (type locality). However, no Rush Darters were collected at the bridge crossing over the spring run 1 week later (Stiles and Blanchard 2001, Drennen pers. obs. 2001). [from USFWS 2002]

Drennen (2003) reported that researchers from Auburn University estimated the species' total population at not more than 500 individuals.

Currently, about 3 km of stream, or about 22 percent of the Rush Darter's known range, is not occupied (USFWS 2011).

Distribution and/or abundance probably are declining (USFWS 2011).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Rush Darters have been collected from various habitats (Bart and Taylor 1999, Johnston and Kleiner 2001, Stiles and Blanchard 2001, Boschung and Mayden 2004): root masses of emergent vegetation along the margins of spring-fed streams in very shallow, clear, cool and flowing water; small clumps and dense stands of bur reed (Sparganium sp.) and coontail (Ceratophyllum sp.) in streams with substrates of silt, sand, sand and silt, muck and sand or some gravel with sand, and bedrock. They appear to prefer relatively low gradient small streams, and some of the streams where they occur are not influenced by springs. Water depth at collection sites ranges from 3.0 cm to 0.5 m with moderate water velocity in riffles and no flow or low flow in pools. No rush darters have been found in higher gradient streams with bedrock substrates and sparse vegetation, and they also have not been found in dense growths of watercress (Nasturtium officinale) along the sides and mid-channel of spring runs. Primary source: USFWS (2002).
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Habitat has been degraded by alteration of stream banks and bottoms; channelization; inadequate storm water management; inappropriate placement of culverts, pipes, and bridges; road maintenance; and haphazard silvicultural and agricultural practices (USFWS 2011). The persistence of a constant flow of clean groundwater from various springs has somewhat offset the destruction of the species' habitat, water quality, and water quantity (USFWS 2011). Range has been reduced by habitat destruction, and dispersal barriers (e.g., pipes and culverts for road crossings; channelized stream segments; and areas subject to emergent aquatic plant control) contribute to the separation and isolation of Rush Darter populations, which now experience increased likelihood of local extirpation (USFWS 2011).

The Rush Darter is vulnerable to non-point source pollution, urbanization, and changes in stream geomorphology due to its localized distribution in parts of two unconnected stream drainages and its apparent low population sizes. Non-point source pollution from land surface runoff can originate from virtually any land use activity and may include sediments, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, animal wastes, septic tank and grey water leakage, and petroleum products. These pollutants tend to increase concentrations of nutrients and toxins in the water and alter the chemistry of affected streams such that the habitat and food sources for species like the Rush Darter are negatively impacted. Construction and road maintenance activities associated with urban development typically involve earth moving activities that increase sediment loads into nearby streams, and other siltation sources, including timber harvesting, clearing of riparian vegetation, and mining and agricultural practices, allow exposed earth to enter streams during or after precipitation events. The Rush Darter's range is in close proximity to metropolitan Birmingham, Alabama, an area in which all of these activities are occurring, so impacts from these activities to the rush darter and its habitat are very likely to occur. Land use practices that affect sediment and water discharges into a stream can also change the erosion or sedimentation pattern of the stream, which can lead to the destruction or modification of in-stream habitat and riparian vegetation, stream bank collapse, and increased water turbidity and temperature. Excessive siltation can make the habitat of Rush Darters and associated benthic fish species unsuitable for feeding and reproduction by covering and eliminating available food sources and nest sites. Sediment has been shown to wear away and/or suffocate periphyton (organisms that live attached to objects underwater and provide likely food items for species such as the Rush Darter), disrupt aquatic insect communities, and negatively impact fish growth, physiology, behaviour, reproduction and survivability (Waters 1995, Knight and Welch 2001). Sediment is the most abundant pollutant in the Mobile River Basin (Alabama Department of Environmental Management 1996). [From USFWS 2002]

Within the Clear Creek drainage, Johnston and Kleiner (2001) reported that during August 2001, land uses in the Doe Branch and Mill Creek area appeared to be dominated by forests and that there were no obvious threats to water quality. However, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) personnel noted extensive siltation at the bridge over Doe Branch at County Road 329 on March 12, 2001, during a modest spring rain and also noted siltation at several other road crossings and at other tributaries in the immediate area. Johnston and Kleiner (2001) reported that recent clear cutting in the Wildcat Branch watershed may have increased sedimentation into the stream. Approximately 84 percent (i.e., 5 km or 3 miles) of Wildcat Branch is privately owned, and recent land exchanges within the Bankhead National Forest have taken about 0.9 km (0.6 miles) of stream west of Clear Creek out of USFS management and protection. Therefore, it is likely that additional, periodic sedimentation events will occur in the Clear Creek drainage that may impact Rush Darter populations and habitat. Cove Spring is a water source for the West Etowah County Water Authority. Water that is pumped from the spring for human consumption is chlorinated on the site, and an overflow pipe from the building that protects the spring outfall provides a constant water source for the spring run. Service personnel visually evaluated the habitat within Cove Spring and its spring run and found that it appeared suitable for Rush Darters. However, it is not known if previous releases of chlorinated spring water from the overflow pipe might have contributed to the apparent loss of the species at this site. Additional investigation is needed to confirm that chlorination caused the demise of the darters at this site. [from USFWS 2002]

Blanco (2001) identified siltation from development projects as the greatest threat to the fauna of Turkey Creek. Blanchard et al. (1998) identified five specific non-point source siltation sites that have impacted the Turkey Creek watershed, including four sites affecting Beaver Creek, which is a major tributary to Turkey Creek. These sites included bridge, road, and sewer line construction sites and a wood pallet plant. In addition, Service personnel noted in 1998 that Turkey Creek at the confluence of Tapawingo and Penny Springs was sediment-laden and completely turbid after medium to heavy rainfalls. Four major soil types occur within the Turkey Creek watershed and all are considered highly erodible due to the steep topography (R. Goode, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Birmingham, Alabama, pers. comm. 1998). Therefore, any activity that removes native vegetation on these soils can be expected to lead to increased sediment loads in Turkey Creek, and urbanization, in particular, has contributed significantly to siltation within the Turkey Creek watershed (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2001), including the areas near Penny and Tapawingo Springs. Industrialization is extensive throughout the watershed, particularly near the type locality for the rush darter (Bart and Taylor 1999). [from USFWS 2002]

Interspecific competition between the Watercress Darter and the Rush Darter at Penny Springs needs study to determine if the robust Watercress Darter population is negatively affecting the Rush Darter, as has been suggested by Stiles (Samford University, pers. comm. 2001). [From USFWS 2002]

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Full extent of distribution needs further study--sample small streams and spring runs in the upper Black Warrior system (Bart and Taylor 1999).

Citation: NatureServe. 2013. Etheostoma phytophilum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T202515A18233834. . Downloaded on 25 April 2018.
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