Southeastern Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation Opportunity Analysis

Identifying aquatic conservation priorities in the Southeastern US

The southeastern US is a global hotspot of freshwater biodiversity, with at least 493 species of fish (62 percent of the US total), 269 mussel species (91 percent of the US total), and perhaps 300 species of crayfish (nearly half of the global total). More than a quarter of this region’s species are found nowhere else in the world, and many are at risk of extinction. Due in large part to rapid development, the number of imperiled freshwater fish species in the Southeast has risen 125% in the past 20 years, and efforts to reverse this trend have been hampered by limited funding and lack of public awareness.

To tackle this problem, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has contracted with the RBC and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) to develop a plan for targeted conservation investment in southeastern freshwater biodiversity that can serve as a resource for NFWF and other conservation-oriented foundations. Since many conservation plans already exist for the region, the RBC will work with state agencies, federal agencies and NGO partners to synthesize these existing prioritization schemes into a coherent conservation blueprint that meets the needs of NFWF.

RBC and TNACI scientists developed range maps for almost 1,050 species of southeastern fishes, mussels, and crayfishes and used these to calculate scores describing the diversity (species richness), distinctiveness (Southeast endemism), and imperilment (according to recent scientific literature) for 290 watersheds. These scores were used to develop a set of priority areas for further investigation.  The project report details the primary and secondary threats in each watershed and describes a suite of recommended management actions that best mitigate these threats.  For more detail, see the project website at www.southeastfreshwater.org.

Funding: NFWF, $138,691
RBC Personnel: Duncan Elkins, Seth Wenger, Laurie Fowler, Katie Sheehan Hill
Partners: NFWF, TNACI

Update: This project was featured on UGA Today on January 30, 2017.

Colorful fish of the Conasauga River. Photo by Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated. Used by permission.