Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Perciformes Percidae

Scientific Name: Etheostoma cinereum
Species Authority: Storer, 1845
Common Name(s):
English Ashy Darter

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2011-12-08
Assessor(s): NatureServe
Reviewer(s): Smith, K. & Darwall, W.R.T.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Hammerson, G.A. & Ormes, M.
This species is listed as Vulnerable because its extent of occurrence is less than 20,000 sq km, area of occupancy probably is less than 2,000 sq km, the species is known recently from not more than 10 locations, and the habitat is subject to ongoing declines in habitat quality.
Previously published Red List assessments:
1996 Vulnerable (VU)
1994 Rare (R)
1990 Rare (R)
1988 Rare (R)
1986 Rare (R)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species has a widespread but spotty distribution in the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Duck river systems of Kentucky and Tennessee (Etnier and Starnes 1993); it has been extirpated in Georgia (known from one specimen collected several decades ago) and Alabama (known from a pre-1845 collection; Boschung and Mayden 2004), and it is rare in Virginia, where it is known from one specimen collected in 1964 (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994) and confirmed as still present in the Clinch River in 2004 (Pat Rakes, Conservation Fisheries, Inc.). In recent years, Ashy Darters have been found in Big South Fork and Rockcastle River of the Cumberland River system in Kentucky and Tennessee and Buffalo, Little, Emory, Elk, and Clinch rivers of the Tennessee River system. The most substantial populations exist in Big South Fork (Cumberland River system) and Buffalo River of the (Tennessee River system) (Etnier and Starnes 1993). Populations in the Emory and Elk rivers are represented by few recent specimens; very small populations may exist there (See Powers et al. 2004). Various populations were probably extirpated before they could be discovered (Etnier and Starnes 1993).
Countries occurrence:
United States
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: This species is known from 15 river reaches; recent collections are largely restricted to seven river reaches (may still exist in a couple additional reaches) (Powers et al. 2004).

Total adult population size is unknown but presumably is at least a few thousand. This darter is apparently rare or uncommon over most of its range, but fairly common locally in a few streams (Page and Burr 2011). It is difficult to collect by routine seining methods (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994), so it may be more widespread/abundant than available information indicates (Etnier and Starnes 1993). In the Little River population, Etnier and Starnes (1993) estimated (mark-recapture via seine) that probably about 300 individuals occurred in one patch of habitat between two riffles. However, snorkelling is the best way to estimate abundance.

This species has been extirpated or nearly extirpated from about half of the tributary systems in which it is known to have been extant during the past few decades (Shepard and Burr 1984).

The Little River, Blount County, Tennessee, formerly had a substantial population (one of the healthiest; Etnier and Starnes 1993), but the species recently has become very rare there (Powers and Mayden 2002, Powers et al. 2004).

Populations in the upper Tennessee River are at risk of disappearing (Powers et al. 2004).

Recent collections of ashy darter from New River, Little South Fork Cumberland River, Tennessee, suggest a possible rebound in distribution, although observable population densities continue to be low (1–2 individuals/collection (R. Brian Evans, unpublished MS thesis).

Warren et al. (2000) categorized this species as "threatened."
Current Population Trend: Unknown
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Habitat includes typically clear, cool and warm, moderate gradient, small to medium upland rivers; typically this species is caught in shallow water (0.5–2 meters) with little current, over clean gravel and rubble (sometimes with a slight silt overlay) in sluggish pool margins just above or below riffles, often under or near slab-rock boulders, particularly in or near stands of water willow (Justicia) or sometimes near cut banks (Lee et al. 1980, Etnier and Starnes 1993, Jenkins and Burkhead 1994). Eggs are laid possibly on the sides of boulders or water willow stems (Etnier and Starnes 1993). Shepard and Burr (1984) described ideal habitats as clear pools with eddies over silt-free sand or gravel substrates with adequate cover, boulders, snags, or water willow (Justicia sp.) beds.
Systems: Freshwater
Movement patterns: Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is not utilized.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The decline of this species is due primarily to elimination and fragmentation of habitat by inundation (reservoir construction) and degradation of habitat by nonpoint-source siltation resulting from land clearing and agricultural development (Boschung and Mayden 2004, Powers et al. 2004).

Powers et al. (2004) cited genetic distinctness and recommended that each major unit of the distribution (Duck River, Upper Tennessee River, and Cumberland River) be considered imperiled. Jelks et al. (2008) categorized four segments of this species separately: Duck River populations = vulnerable, lower Tennessee River populations = endangered, upper Cumberland populations = vulnerable, and upper Tennessee River populations = endangered.

Urbanization is a threat to habitat in the lower reaches of the Little River (Powers et al. 2004). Potential threats include pollution, siltation, and inundation of habitat.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Powers et al. (2004) recommended the following conservation measures
  1. Populations from the Cumberland, Duck, and upper Tennessee rivers should be considered different management units (MUs), and highest priority should be given to efforts to preserve each of them
  2. Each MU should be considered imperiled, and stream surveys should be conducted in extant and historical localities to assess the relative size of each population of Etheostoma cinereum throughout its range
  3. Efforts should be made to reduce the impact of urbanization in the lower reaches of the Little River
  4. If propagation and/or reintroduction efforts are made, brood stock for efforts should come from within the major drainage units, and as many individuals as possible should be used in breeding to perpetuate genetic diversity of each MU; any offspring produced by propagation efforts should be released in areas within the historical range but not currently inhabited by E. cinereum to avoid decreasing genetically effective population size of current populations
  5. Morphological variation within E. cinereum should be reevaluated and interpreted under more contemporary species concepts.
Phylogenetic analysis of cytochrome b sequence from individuals (n = 14) representing each of the extant populations indicated genetic differentiation among populations inhabiting the Cumberland, Duck, and upper Tennessee River drainages; these analyses are concordant with previously noted patterns of morphological variation and minimally support three different management units (MU) currently recognized as E. cinereum (Powers et al. 2004).

Additional surveys may be needed in Tennessee: Emory River, Upper Duck River, Roaring River, Obey River system.

All populations deserve some sort of protection.

Citation: NatureServe. 2013. Etheostoma cinereum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T8111A13308374. . Downloaded on 04 October 2015.
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