Biotic community of the Big Piney watershed
Stream Fish Distribution and Abundance
Historical records of fish community collections within the Big Piney Watershed date back to 1930 (MDC 1998a and MoRAP 2003a). From 1930 to 2002, 73 fish species (not including hybrids or larval lamprey) in 24 families have been collected within the watershed (Table Bc01) (MDC Ozark Regional Fish Community Collections and Sport Fish Sample Files; MDC 1998a; Sternberg et al. 1998; MoRAP 2003a). Fish community sampling sites are presented in Figure Bc01.
Analysis of temporal distribution of species within the watershed was accomplished by dividing the examined Period of record for fish community collections into three periods: Period One (1930-1954), Period Two (1955-1979), and Period Three (1980-2002). This analysis revealed that 68 fish species were sampled within the watershed in Period One, while 60 species each were sampled in Periods Two and Three (MDC Ozark Regional Fish Community Collections, Sport Fish Sample Files, and Creel Survey Files; MDC 1998a; and MoRAP 2003a). Three species found within the watershed in Period Three had not been found in previous periods. These species include mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdi), western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), and striped shiner (Luxilis chrysocephalus).
Thirteen fish species found within the watershed in Periods One and/or Two were not found in Period Three. These include Goldfish (Carassius auratus), river carpsucker (Carpoides carpio) quillback (Carpoides cyprinus), highfincarpsucker (Carpoides velifer), northern brook lamprey (Ichthyomyzon fossor), smallmouth buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus), shortnose gar (Lepisosteus platostomus), orangespotted sunfish (Lepomis humilis), silver redhorse (Moxostoma anisurum), river redhorse (Moxostoma carinatum), shorthead redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum), slenderhead darter (Percina phoxocephala), and walleye (Stizostedion vitreum). Six species, including river carpsucker, highfin carpsucker, smallmouth buffalo, shortnose gar, slenderhead darter, and walleye do not appear to have solid records of being common to the watershed. This is illustrated by the fact that only a maximum of 8 individuals per species are recorded as having been found in the watershed. In addition, each species was found only at a single site within the watershed with no additional individuals observed after Period One.
Two species absent from Period Three collections, the quillback and the northern brook lamprey, each had 6 individuals recorded from 2 locations and 4 locations respectively during the previous time period(s). However, due to the combining of collections from two locations with samples spanning Periods One and Two, it is difficult to determine if these species were present in one or both periods.
Three species which appear to have been relatively well established within the watershed during Periods One and Two are absent from Period Three collections. The shorthead redhorse was previously reported from 5 sites within the watershed with 208 individuals recorded. The river redhorse was previously reported from 6 sites within the watershed with 50 individuals recorded. Over 11 individuals of the orange spotted sunfish were also reported during Periods One and Two from 6 sites.
Two species of fish have been collected in fish community samples of Period Three which were not recorded in fish community collections from the previous two periods within the watershed. These include the striped shiner, and western mosquitofish. Prior to 1995, the striped shiner had not been recorded in the Big Piney Watershed since before 1905. Since 1995, this species has been recorded from 9 sites within the watershed. Pflieger (1997) notes the historic decline and reappearance of the striped shiner within the Gasconade River System (which includes the Big Piney Watershed) and states that the “reestablishment of the striped shiner in the Gasconade system suggests an undocumented reintroduction of the species into the Gasconade headwaters”.
The western mosquitofish had not been observed within the watershed prior to 1980. Since 1980, the western mosquitofish has been recorded at 10 sites within the watershed. A survey in the 1940s indicated that its distribution in Missouri included the “Lowland Faunal Region and northward along the Mississippi River to Ramsey Creek in Pike County” (Pflieger 1997). Today the mosquito fish can be found in all of the faunal regions of the state.
Many variables, including differences in sampling methodology and effort could be an explanation for the absence from recent collections of some species which were previously known to occur in the watershed. For other previously recorded species, the limited distribution as well as the absence of substantial numbers of individuals suggests that some species have never been common in the watershed. The exact cause or causes of the appearance of some species and apparent disappearance of others in the watershed is difficult to ascertain given the many different variables one might need to take into account among these of which are differences in sampling effort and gear between the three time periods. Such an analysis not only goes beyond the scope of this document but could comprise a fairly lengthy report by itself.
The Big Piney River and its tributaries offer a variety of angling opportunities. A total of 8 species of game fish (as defined in MDC 2004a) are known to occur within the watershed (MDC Ozark Regional Fish Collection Files; MoRAP 2003a; MDC 1998a). Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and rock bass are common. At the time of this writing, the Big Piney River from Slabtown Access to Ross Access is a Smallmouth Bass Special Management Area (MDC 2003d). In this area, “all smallmouth bass less than fifteen inches in total length must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught” and the “daily limit may include no more than one smallmouth bass” (MDC 2004a). In addition, the Big Piney River, from highway 17 to the Gasconade River, has an eight inch minimum length limit for Rock Bass. In this area, “all rock bass less than eight inches in total length must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught” (MDC 2004a).
Other game fish species found in the watershed include channel catfish (probably more common in farm ponds of the watershed than streams), rainbow trout, white crappie, black crappie, and flathead catfish. Walleye are known to have been found in a few pre-1955 fish community samples, however they have not been found in samples since.
Two significant rainbow trout fisheries occur within the watershed. These are located on Spring Creek in Phelps County and Stone Mill Spring Branch in Pulaski County. Spring Creek, from Relfe Spring to its junction with the Big Piney River (6.2 miles) is currently managed as a Wild Trout Management Area; while the entire Stone Mill Spring Branch (0.3 miles), is currently managed as a Trout Management Area. Special regulations apply for both areas. For additional information please refer to current copy of the Missouri Wildlife Code. It should also be noted that in addition to a Missouri fishing license, an FLW sportsmen's permit and stamp is required to fish in the Stone Mill Spring Trout Management Area (MDC 2004b).
Regulations governing hunting and fishing activities are subject to change. Before engaging in these activities one should consult the most current copy of the Missouri Wildlife Code.
One potential concern regarding the game fish population of the headwaters of the Big Piney Watershed, as well as many other Ozark headwater streams, is the success of MDCs river otter reintroduction program. Since the successful reintroduction of the otter, complaints from private land owners and sportsman’s groups regarding otter impacts to pond and stream fisheries have been received by the MDC. Efforts have been undertaken by the MDC to determine the otter’s role in the decline of game fish populations in headwater streams. Changes in otter trapping regulations have been implemented in order to address problems associated with high otter densities in areas where damage is believed to be the most severe. As a result, many Ozark streams, including the Big Piney and its tributaries, are located in a management zone which has an extended otter trapping season (relative to other zones) and a liberal bag limit (MDC 2003e).
Detailed studies and monitoring of stream game fish populations have been conducted by the MDC within the watershed. Due to the large amount of information available, a comprehensive summary of these efforts is not practical within the pages of this document. Additional information regarding the game fish populations within the watershed may be obtained by contacting the Fisheries staff at the Missouri Department of Conservation, West Plains, Missouri 65775; Phone (417) 256-7161.
Fish stocking efforts within the Big Piney Watershed have included the stocking of both cold and warm-water species. Some of the earliest fish stocking known to have occurred in the watershed involved the introduction of Salmonid species. It is speculated that trout may have been stocked as early as 1880 with fish from Brown Spring Station Hatchery at St. Joseph Missouri (Tryon 1990). Also during this time, “California Salmon” were introduced to tributaries of the Missouri River (which may well have included the Gasconade) via the Frisco Railroad which ran from St. Louis to Southwest Missouri (Turner 1979). Several later stockings of other species were also carried out utilizing the rail line. While this rail line did not cross streams of the Big Piney, it did cross the Gasconade down stream of the Big Piney. Whether or not these fish ever made it into the streams of the Big Piney watershed is, for the most part, left to speculation. In 1902, grayling were stocked in Spring Creek (Tryon 1990). The first official record of trout introduction into spring creek is in 1908 with the stocking of brook trout. In 1910, the first official recorded introduction of rainbow trout occurs. Periodic stockings of both brown trout and rainbow trout (including at least one documented case of the stocking of Australian rainbow trout) occurred until 1982 when Spring Creek became managed as a self-sustaining rainbow trout fishery (Turner 1988 and Tryon 1990). Today spring creek continues to have a self-sustaining rainbow trout population and currently receives no stocking.
Stone Mill Spring Branch is another stream which has been stocked with trout. Stone Mill Spring Branch, located east of Fort Leonard Wood Military Reservation, has been managed by Fort Leonard Wood as a “put-and-take” rainbow trout fishery since 1965. This fishery is stocked regularly throughout the year.
Limited availability of historic stocking records for warm water species, the potential of “bait bucket” introductions and the availability of fish from commercial dealers, makes it difficult to address the entire scope of warm water stocking which has or may have occurred in the Big Piney Watershed. However, examination of various sources reveals some past stocking efforts within the watershed. The common carp, a species native to Asia, was widely stocked in Missouri by the Missouri Fish Commission between 1879 and 1895 at which time the program was discontinued (Pflieger 1997). Earliest observations of common carp from MDC fish community collection files are from 1947 (MDC 1998a). While common carp are a component of the commercial fishing industry in Missouri (Barnes and Riggert 2000), common carp can also be a nuisance species. They take space in rivers, streams, and lakes away from native species. They can increase stream and lake turbidity, destroy spawning habitat, while eating the eggs of native species of fish (Barnes and Riggert 2000). MDC annual reports (1937-1942 and 1946-1992) indicate that, historically, warm-water fish stocked or “rescued” (removing fish from intermittent pools of water and redistributing to areas deemed more suitable) by the MDC in the watershed included largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill, green sunfish, catfish, shadow bass, and “minnows”. The practice of “fish rescue” has been discontinued.
Roby Lake, a USFS impoundment, currently receives supplemental stockings of channel catfish on a semi-annual basis (MDC 2000c). In addition, 5 impoundments on FLW are stocked with channel catfish annually by FLW. Some of these impoundments have also received stock-ins of hybrid sunfish and bluegill within the last 5 years (Zurbrick, Personal Communication). Undoubtedly, farm ponds within the watershed have been stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish by private individuals who obtained fish from the MDC, commercial dealers, and/or other water bodies. The availability of grass carp from commercial fish dealers also increases the probability of this species having been stocked in water bodies within the watershed. The potential of these fish being washed into streams exists during major precipitation events.
A lack of historical records, plus the occurrence of undocumented introductions makes it difficult to determine, with any reliability, all species which may have been introduced into the watershed. Effects of introductions vary. While the introduction of species already present in the watershed may have minimal to no effect, the introduction of exotic (non-native) species can, in many instances, have disastrous consequences.
A total of 32 species and subspecies of mussels are known to occur within the Big Piney Watershed (Table Bc02 and Figure Bc02) (MDC 1998d, MDC 1998f, Sternberg 1998 et al. 1998, MoRAP 2003b, MNHP 2003b, and). Of these, 1 species, the pink mucket (Lampsilis abrupta) is listed as a state and federal endangered species (MNHP 2003a). In addition, the elephant ear (Elliptio crassidens) is a state endangered species. Three additional species within the watershed are considered species of conservation concern. These include the elktoe (Alasmidonta marginata), spectaclecase (Cumberlandia monodonta), and the Ouachita kidneyshell (Ptychobranchus occidentalis). The Asian clam (Corbicula flumina) is an exotic (non-native) species of mussel which occurs in the watershed. This mollusk is a native of southern and eastern Asia. The Asian clam can alter lake and stream substrates, compete with native mussels for food and space, and cause biofouling problems in irrigation systems, power plants, and other industrial water systems (USGS 2002b).
Six species of snails have been identified within the Big Piney Watershed (Wu et al. 1997). These include the highland campeloma (Campeloma subsolidum), pyramid elimia (Elimia potosiensis), pygmy fossaria (Lymnaea [Fossaria] parva), Goodrich’s physa (Physa [Physella] goodrichi), tadpole physa (Physa [Physella] gyrina), and sharp hornsnail (Pleurocera acuta).
Three species of crayfish are known to occur within the Big Piney Watershed (MDC 1998e, Sternberg et al. 1998, and MoRAP 2003c). These include the golden crayfish (Orconectes luteus), Salem cave crayfish (Cambarus hubrichti), and spothanded crayfish (Orconectes punctimanus). The Salem cave crayfish, currently (2003) a species of conservation concern, has been found at a single site in the watershed; while the golden crayfish and spothanded crayfish appear to be fairly wide spread within the watershed. It is important to note that it appears no crayfish sampling has been conducted on the Lower Big Piney or its tributaries with the exception of Spring Creek. Crayfish community sampling sites are presented in Figure Bc03.
One hundred and ninety-one taxa of aquatic invertebrates (not including mussels and crayfish) have been collected within the Big Piney Watershed and have records within the MDC Benthic Invertebrate Database (MDC 1998f) (Table Bc03). Two species are listed as Missouri species of conservation concern (MDNHP 2003a). These include the Ozark clubtail (Gomphus ozarkensis) and Westfall's snaketail (Ophiogomphus westfalli). MDC (1998f) benthic invertebrate sampling sites are presented in Figure Bc04.
Species of Conservation Concern
Within the Big Piney Watershed, 40 species of conservation concern have been identified (Table Bc04) (MNHP 2003b).
These include: 15 species of plants (flowering plants, ferns, fern allies, and mosses); 2 species of insects; 1 species of crayfish; 4 species of mussels; 4 species of fish; 2 species of amphibians, 6 species of birds; and 5 species of mammals. Four species within the watershed are federally and state listed as endangered. These include the gray bat, Indiana bat, pink mucket, and running buffalo clover. An additional species, the Bald Eagle, is federally listed as threatened and state listed as endangered. In addition to the aforementioned species, the eastern hellbender is currently proposed for state listing as endangered.