OF ALABAMA IS AN OUTSTANDING BOOK
by Whit Gibbons
July 25, 2004
I just finished
reading the most impressive book on fishes that I have ever seen. "Fishes
of Alabama" (Smithsonian Books, 2004) by Herbert T. Boschung, Jr.,
and Richard Mayden, with illustrations by Joseph R. Tomelleri, provides
an outstanding comprehensive account of the geographic region with the
highest fish biodiversity in North America. Because the 300-plus fishes
discussed in the book represent more than half of the species native to
the Southeast, the book will be useful for learning about fishes in all
southern states, not just Alabama.
Because of its many stream and river systems, Alabama has the country's
richest array of fishes, as well as aquatic snails, mussels, and turtles.
The species diversity in the Mobile Basin alone rivals that of many higher
profile systems, such as tropical rain forests. Explanations for the high
diversity include a combination of climate, geology, and a vast range
of aquatic habitats. As the state with more miles of navigable stream
systems than any other, Alabama is a natural for showcasing animals that
swim, and this book will make anyone appreciate the beauty and variability
of its native fishes.
One of the
notable achievements of "Fishes of Alabama" is that it will
serve as both the definitive scientific work on southeastern fishes as
well as a popular coffee-table book that is enjoyable to scan for its
magnificent illustrations. The authors are professional ichthyologists
with long-term field and museum experience. But you do not have to be
an ichthyologist or a sports fisherman to enjoy looking at the 112 plates
with as many as six superb illustrations per page. The pictures of the
fishes are absolutely magnificent, as well as detailed and accurate.
of species accounts are scholarly; the compilation of extensive charts
of distribution patterns and conservation status are thorough; and the
illustrated identification keys are clear and practical. Each account
has information on the morphological and color characteristics that make
the species distinctive. Accompanying each account are maps and descriptions
of the distribution in Alabama and the United States, as well as sections
on habitats, general biology, and conservation status.
show the incredible color patterns of some of the country's most remarkable
fishes; many are unknown to even avid anglers because they are not game
fish and lots of them are small and secretive. For example, sports fishermen
view some of the minnows known as shiners primarily as bait fish, but
few know the range of variability in color that occurs among the group.
Breeding males of the rainbow shiner, for example, have a blue head, a
purplish or reddish stripe on the upper half of the body, with "powder
blue below [and] iridescent flecks of lavender, pink, and silver over
much of the body." And some of the small stream fish known as darters
display vibrant color patterns of red, blue, green, and yellow on a single
fish, a color display that rivals the most stunning tropical birds. More
than 50 species of darters are found in Alabama, more than in any other
state, and some are found nowhere else.
2 of Alabama's fish species have already become extinct, and Boschung
and Mayden note that 124 species are imperiled. This means that, unless
appropriate conservation measures are taken, more than a third of the
fishes in the state could disappear before today's first-graders graduate
from college. I like the authors' statement that "this is an alarming
number and should awaken the public to realization that Alabama is on
the brink of losing much of its biodiversity." But I regret that
such a proclamation has to be made. Even grimmer is the fact that similar
statements could be made for other groups of plants and animals, and not
only for Alabama but for all southeastern states with high numbers of
this book to anyone, whether conservation biologist, ecologist, ichthyologist,
or amateur naturalist. Anyone who reads it and looks at the illustrations
will come away knowing more about fish than they did before and having
a deeper appreciation for the intrinsic value of these denizens of Alabama's
streams and rivers.
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