Plagopterus argentissimus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Cypriniformes Cyprinidae

Scientific Name: Plagopterus argentissimus Cope, 1874
Common Name(s):
English Woundfin
French Plagoptere Argente
Spanish Plagoptero Plateado
Taxonomic Source(s): Cope, E.D. 1874. On the Plagopterinae and the ichthyology of Utah. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 14: 129-139.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered B1ab(i,ii,iii,v) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2012-04-11
Assessor(s): NatureServe
Reviewer(s): Smith, K. & Darwall, W.R.T.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Hammerson, G.A. & Ormes, M.
This species is listed as Critically Endangered because its extent of occurrence is less than 100 sq km, number of locations is one, and distribution, abundance, and habitat extent and quality are declining.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species' historical range included the Colorado and Gila river basins in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, including at least the Colorado River from Yuma upstream into the Virgin River in Nevada and Utah, and the Gila River from Yuma to the confluence of the Salt River. No barriers or habitat considerations would have limited the species to this specific area, so it is likely that the historical range extended farther upstream in the Verde, Salt, and Gila rivers in Arizona (USFWS 2000).

Preliminary sampling results collected in 2007 indicated that the wild Woundfin population was functionally extirpated throughout its designated critical habitat (140 stream-kilometres along the Virgin River) (USFWS 2008). Hatchery-raised Woundfin have been stocked in the upper Virgin River, and additional releases are planned in the future.

In 1972, Woundfin were transplanted into four locations in the Gila River system, but populations were not established (USFWS 2008). In 1985, streams in the Gila River drainage (Hassayampa, Verde, San Francisco, and Gila rivers, and Tonto Creek) were identified as reintroduction sites, and the Gila River drainage was designated as a nonessential experimental population. Reintroduction efforts in the Gila River drainage in Arizona are underway (USFWS 2008).
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 very few occurrences (subpopulations) (only one if the Virgin River is regarded as a single metapopulation).

Total adult population size is unknown.

Surveys in the early 1970s found that the Woundfin was the most common native species, comprising about half (5,000 of 10,822) of the native fish collected (Cross 1978). It has declined greatly since then, with increases in the range and abundance of the red shiner. The species now occupies not more than 12 percent of the estimated historical range (USFWS 2000).

Over the past 30 years, Woundfin have generally declined throughout their occupied range and critical habitat. They have been extirpated from the Lower Virgin River (i.e., from Beaver Dam Wash, perhaps from the Utah / Arizona State line, downstream to Lake Mead). Populations in Utah, particularly those upstream of the influence of red shiner (i.e., upstream of the Washington Fields Diversion), have persisted better than anywhere else (USFWS 2008).

Distribution and abundance have declined over the past 10 years or three generations (three generations is roughly 10 years). In the past 20 years, Woundfin have been eliminated from at least 56 kilometers of designated critical habitat in the lower Virgin River, and abundance has declined to precariously low levels elsewhere (USFWS 2008).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Habitat includes seasonally swift, warm, highly turbid, small to medium rivers, with constantly shifting substrates (Lee et al. 1980, Matthews and Moseley 1990, Page and Burr 2011). Adults and juveniles inhabit runs and quiet waters adjacent to riffles with sand and sand/gravel substrates (USFWS 2000). Adults are generally found in habitats with water depths of 0.15–0.43 m and velocities of 0.24–0.49 m per second, whereas juveniles select areas with slower and deeper water, and larvae are found in backwaters and stream margins which are often associated with growths of filamentous algae (USFWS 2000). Spawning occurs in swifter flowing water over beds of cobble or gravel (Matthews and Moseley 1990).
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is not utilized.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The Virgin River system has been negatively affected by agricultural and energy development, and the decline of the Woundfin has been due in part to habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation caused by associated dams, reservoirs, and water diversion. Completion of Quail Creek Reservoir in Utah in 1985 was followed by a substantial decrease in the abundance and area of occupancy of the Woundfin.

Changes to flow patterns caused by dams and diversions have facilitated movement of red shiners upstream in the Virgin River (USFWS 1994). The non-native red shiner largely has replaced the Woundfin and has introduced the Asian tapeworm, which now parasitizes many of the remaining Woundfin (Heckmann et al 1986). Maintenance of a 26-kilometer red-shiner-free zone has required monumental management efforts, and the threat of red shiner expansion remains as prevalent today as it was in the late 1980s when red shiners became established in the upper river (USFWS 2008).

The Woundfin inhabits one of the fastest-growing parts of Utah, and associated extensive water development is an ongoing threat (Minckley and Deacon 1991).

Failure of a dike at Quail Creek Reservoir and a resulting flood of relatively enormous magnitude detrimentally affected the Virgin River Woundfin habitat (Hendrickson and Brooks 1991).

Primary threats are competition and predation from non-native species (primarily Red Shiner) and degraded habitat conditions (reduced flow/high temperatures) (USFWS 2008). Causes for the most recent decline in Woundfin numbers was attributed to the following suite of environmental conditions: continued drought with summer temperatures exceeding behavioural thermal maximum and critical thermal maximum; runoff from burned portions of the drainage; and the input of sediment from behind the Quail Creek Diversion Dam (USFWS 2008).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Actions Needed (USFWS 1994):
  1. Monitor existing populations.
  2. Eliminate red shiners from the Virgin River system from Johnson Diversion to Lake Mead.
  3. Develop a viable operating protocol for regulated flows within the Virgin River affected by the Quail Creek Reservoir System and other proposed systems.
  4. Recommend specific sites suitable for reintroduction of additional populations of Woundfin.
  5. Secure appropriate habitat and flow protection for the selected introduction sites.
  6. Introduce Woundfin to selected sites.
  7. Develop and implement appropriate monitoring programs for reintroduced Woundfin populations.
  8. Conduct research on the life history of Woundfin.
  9. Conduct research on the potential for habitat improvements within the Virgin River.

Classifications [top]

5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.1. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Land/water protection -> 1.2. Resource & habitat protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
2. Land/water management -> 2.2. Invasive/problematic species control
2. Land/water management -> 2.3. Habitat & natural process restoration
3. Species management -> 3.2. Species recovery
3. Species management -> 3.3. Species re-introduction -> 3.3.1. Reintroduction

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.2. Droughts
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%)   

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.1. Abstraction of surface water (domestic use)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%)   

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.10. Large dams
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%)   

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.3. Abstraction of surface water (agricultural use)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%)   

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.5. Abstraction of ground water (domestic use)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%)   

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.7. Abstraction of ground water (agricultural use)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%)   

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Schyzocotyle acheilognathi ]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%)   

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Cyprinella lutrensis ]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%)   

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Arizona Game and Fish Department. 2001. Plagopterus argentissimus. Unpublished abstract compiled and edited by the Heritage Data Management System. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix, AZ.

Cross, J.N. 1978. Contributions to the biology of the woundfin, Plagopterus argentissimus (Pisces: Cyprinidae), an endangered species. Great Basin Naturalist 38: 463-468.

Deacon, J.E. 1988. The endangered woundfin and water management in the Virgin River, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Fisheries 13(1): 18-24.

Greger, P.D. and Deacon, J.E. 1988. Food partitioning among fishes of the Virgin River. Copeia 1988: 314-323.

Heckmann, R.A., Deacon, J.E. and Greger, P.D. 1986. Parasites of the woundfin minnow, Plagopterus argentissimus, and other endemic fishes from the Virgin River, Utah. Great Basin Naturalist 46: 662-676.

Hendrickson, D.A. and Brooks, J.E. 1991. Transplanting short-lived fishes in North American deserts: review, assessment, and recommendations. In: W.L. Minckley and J.E. Deacon (eds), Battle Against Extinction: Native Fish Management in the American West, pp. 283-298. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.

IUCN. 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2013.1). Available at: (Accessed: 12 June 2013).

Lee, D.S., Gilbert, C.R., Hocutt, C.H., Jenkins, R.E., McAllister, D.E. and Stauffer, J.R., Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Matthews, J.R. and Moseley, C.J. (eds). 1990. The Official World Wildlife Fund Guide to Endangered Species of North America. Volume 1. Plants, Mammals. xxiii + pp 1-560 + 33 pp. appendix + 6 pp. glossary + 16 pp. index, pp. 1180. Beacham Publications, Inc., Washington, D.C.

Minckley, W.L. 1973. Fishes of Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix, Arizona.

Minckley, W.L. and Deacon, J.E. 1991. Battle Against Extinction: Native Fish Management in the American West. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.

Nelson, J.S., Crossman, E.J., Espinosa-Perez, H., Findley, L.T., Gilbert, C.R., Lea, R.N. and Williams, J.D. 2004. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Page, L.M. and Burr, B.M. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.

Page, L.M. and Burr, B.M. 2011. Peterson field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts.

Robins, C.R., Bailey, R.M., Bond, C.E., Brooker, J.R., Lachner, E.A., Lea, R.N. and Scott, W.B. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society.

Sigler, W.F. and Miller, R.R. 1963. Fishes of Utah. Utah State Department of Fish and Game, Salt Lake City, Utah.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1979. Recovery plan for woundfin, Plagopterus argentissimus. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1990. Endangered and threatened species recovery program: report to Congress.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1994. Recovery plan for the Virgin River fishes. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1999. Notice of availability of the final environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for designation of critical habitat for the woundfin (Plagopterus argentissimus) and Virgin River chub (Gila seminuda) within the Virgin River basis [sic]. Federal Register 64(226): 66192-66193.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2000. Designation of critical habitat for the woundfin and Virgin River chub. Federal Register 65(17): 4140-4156.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2008. The Virgin River fishes woundfin (Plagopterus argentissimus) Virgin River chub (Gila seminuda) 5-year review: summary and evaluation. USFWS, Utah Field Office, West Valley City, Utah.

Woundfin Recovery Team. 1985. Recovery plan for woundfin (Plagopterus argentissimus Cope) (revision). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Citation: NatureServe. 2013. Plagopterus argentissimus. In: . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T17468A19034295. . Downloaded on 19 June 2018.
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