OF THE SOUTHEAST SETS THE BAR
Southeast has the nations highest biodiversity of plants and animals.
this region, an astonishing array is concentrated in Alabama. The remarkable
numbers of native freshwater fish, mollusk and turtle species have been
documented in numerous books, many published by the University of Alabama
press. Among these is "Southern Wonder: Alabamas Surprising
Biodiversity" by R. Scot Duncan, which gives a thorough account
of the states biological and geological heritage.
Wildlife, a four-volume series edited by Ralph Mirarchi, provides
extensive background on the richness of the vertebrate and invertebrate
fauna of the state. These volumes offer checklists and descriptions
of species found in the state, with color photographs of those identified
as imperiled. Conservation and management recommendations are provided
for land managers and everyday citizens interested in helping protect
endangered populations. The 2017 publication of "Alabama Wildlife,
Volume 5, edited by Ericha Shelton-Nix, adds to this valuable
volumes in the series were published more than a decade ago. A key feature
of volume 5 is an update of the taxonomic and conservation status of
numerous nongame wildlife species. A variety of mammals, birds, reptiles,
amphibians and fish, as well as freshwater snails and mussels, are discussed.
But the major accomplishment is information on 84 different kinds of
crayfish, a group not included in the earlier volumes. Crayfish are
yet another taxonomic group whose diversity in the Southeast is astounding.
that group, the largest in size is the Tennessee bottlebrush crayfish.
They are difficult to study in the wild because they live in streams
beneath large rock slabs. They are very rare, or at least no one knows
how to capture them in large numbers. No one knows how big they may
get, but the largest one found so far is around half a foot in length.
species look like what everyone thinks of as a typical crawdad.
Two long claws for pinching and a flattened tail. But several species
of cave crayfish have been discovered in Alabama, many as the result
of accidental captures from underground streams and pools. The Alabama
cave crayfish are white and have reduced eyes. The intrigue of all subterranean
creatures, including fishes and salamanders, is that no one knows exactly
what their distribution is or what their general ecology is. Do some
live in deep aquifers that go for miles beneath the surface? What do
they eat? How do they find a mate?
reality is that a dozen species of Alabama crayfish are categorized
as being of highest conservation concern, meaning that they
are critically imperiled and at risk of extinction (or) extirpation.
An additional 30 species fall into the high conservation concern
category, which means they are not far behind the others in becoming
endangered or threatened on a trajectory toward extinction. Not a pleasant
thought that these distinctive animals might disappear from our native
threats to the continued existence of crayfish is the degradation of
clean streams and rivers due to pollution from unregulated human activities.
Unnatural industrial effluents, runoff of sediments from agricultural
and mining activities and mishandled municipal sewage all contribute
to the pollution problem. Crayfish are superb indicators of environmental
health in many aquatic systems, including those beneath the ground.
The fact that half the species in the state are of concern to biologists
who study them should alarm anyone who wants to live around natural
habitats and healthy ecosystems.
diversity is high throughout the Southeast, and each state has species
that qualify for conservation concern. Each state also has its own wealth
of native biodiversity and unique wildlife assemblages. Folks living
there can benefit from compilations that let them know how special their
region is and what threatens that specialness. "Alabama Wildlife,
Volume 5 continues a tradition of high-quality presentations that
inform both scientists and general readers about the biological status
of Alabama's amazing faunal biodiversity.
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