Unique Fishes of Sicily Island Hills

Posted: October 17, 2009 in Homepage
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Because of an outstanding ULM biology professor emeritus and the exceptional graduate students at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, many of whom have been employed with federal and state agencies, the fish collection at the ULM Museum of Natural History is not only one of the largest in the United States but also one of the finest research collections in the United States.

So when I wanted to know something of the unique fishes at Sicily Island Hills I naturally asked my friend Professor Emeritus Neil H. Douglas for assistance. Neil is author of the definitive book “Freshwater Fishes of Louisiana”. If this post should trigger your interest in freshwater fishes of Louisiana, check out Neil’s book at your local library, look for it at your locally owned bookstore  or acquire it online.

Having done field research all over Louisiana and beyond, Neil was most familiar with the fishes and waters of Sicily Island Hills.

According to Dr. Douglas there are two fishes of special interest in the Sicily Island Hills, Notropis longirostris also called the Longnose Shiner and Campostoma anomalum, the Central Stoneroller.  Another special fish in the surrounding area west of Sicily Island Hills is  Notropis sabinae known as  the Sabine Shiner. All three species belong to the Cyprinid family. Most people are more familiar with Goldfish, which are also a member of the Cyprinid family.

In August 1968 Ross Edward Hamilton Jr., a graduate student in the Northeast Louisiana State College (NLSC), now ULM, biology department published the results of his research in and around the Sicily Island Hills in his thesis entitled “Isolated Populations of Cyprinid Fishes from the Eastern Extension of the Kisatchie Wold”.

The Kisatchie Wold is an area that all Louisiana school children learn about in elementary Geography classes. It is a physiographic feature that begins in Texas and ends at the Sicily Island Hills. Considering its length and ecological makeup in Texas and Louisiana, plus the fact that in Mississippi similar hills and environments exist, it would not stretch the imagination to believe that before the Mississippi River broke through the area, perhaps these hills were once united.

With Ross’s kind permission I will share with you his findings. Ross stated that his “study was initiated when collections of fishes from the Kisatchie Wold area of east central Louisiana revealed the presence of the cyprinid species  Notropis longirostris (Hay).  This was of special interest since “the Mississippi River and its flood plain apparently form a barrier to the east-west  movement of some fishes”. He further states, “The surface area is topographically and apparently ecologically similar to the area adjacent to the Mississippi River in south Mississippi and Louisiana  east of the Mississippi River”.  Ross believed that, ” the physical similarity of the hill country of Catahoula  Parish to areas east of the Mississippi suggests that faunal links may exist between the two areas”.

Notropis longirostris was described in 1880 by Hays from a collection of fishes from the Chickasawha River at Enterprise, in Clark County, Mississippi”. ” According to Hubbs and Walker (1942), this species is usually found in streams that possess a shifting sand bottom in moderately rapid water at depths varying from a few feet to 18 inches”. “Notropis longirostris is usually found in short sand shoals between pools or in the current along feather edges of pools”.

Campostoma anomalum is readily distinguished by the remarkably long intestine wound many times around the air bladder (Moore 1968). It inhabits clear spring branches and creeks with sand and gravel bottoms, especially those with riffles (Coo, 1957; Miller, 1962; Ross, 1959). Its range includes most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Although the range of C. anomalum includes the state of Louisiana only a few specimens are known from this state and recent collections produced this species for the first time west of the Mississippi River in Louisiana”. ” Collecting for this study began on April 9, 1967 and terminated June 1, 1968″.

“Collections from the streams of the eastern extension of Kisatchie Wold revealed stable populations of C. anomalumN. longirostris, and N. sabinae.”The distribution of these species is shown by record stations on Plate 2″.

Plate 2a

Plate 2

“The distributions of N. longirostris and N. sabinae within the eastern extension of the Kisatchie Wold are of special interest since they are closely related to each other and have not previously been reported to occur in proximity to one another “.  “Although the two forms occur in streams that are apparently alike they were not found sympatrically in any stream”.

What Ross is stating is that although the two species are found in streams of similar makeup, the two species were not found occupying the same stream.

“All of the streams containing N. sabinae and N. longirostris possessed a high gradient and are characterized by sandy shoals and sudden fluctuations of the water levels due to runoff from the surrounding hills. It was interesting to note that streams occurring in the study area not possessing a high gradient did not support N. sabinae and N. longirostris“.

Some of the creeks in the study area possessed a high gradient but not the preferred sandy shoals needed for N. sabinae.  “When N. sabinae occurred, sand shoals were  abundant and N. sabinae was found in great number”.

Both N. sabinae and N. longirostris inhabit areas in a stream with little competition.  Ross concluded that the absence of  collections of N. sabinae in streams of Grant, LaSalle and Winn Parishes would seem to indicate that N. sabinae in the eastern extension of Kisatchie Wold was an isolated population.

“The records of N. longirostris from the study area represent the first record of this species west of the Mississippi River”. The aquatic environment for N. longirostris included streams with a high gradient and sandy shoals and where it occurred it was abundant and Ross believed it to be an isolated population as well.

Whereas Ross believed N.sabinae was related to the populations of that species in the Sabine River drainage, he also inferred that N. longirostris is more closely related to the population of that species east of the Mississippi River. “Chawner (1936) states that the hills of Catahoula Parish are a remnant of a more extensive range of hills which at one time extended farther out into the Alluvial Valley and may have been connected by outcrop with the Catahoula formation at Grand Gulf, Mississippi”.

In his field work, Ross spent much time carefully collecting, cataloging and mapping the distribution of the cyprinid  species. The information he provided is  scientifically important. I am particularly interested in learning more of the possible geological connection between the Kisatchie Wold and the hills of Mississippi. In my conversation with Ross this summer he stated that DNA sampling would provide even more answers to this connection. I think that would make a new group of biologists a great thesis topic. Thank you Ross.

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