A Kansas State University researcher is discovering that the North American drought has caused dramatic changes in native fish communities.
"A couple of key species that we have been studying have virtually disappeared where they historically were abundant," said Keith Gido, professor of biology who researches fish ecology and conservation of aquatic systems.
Gido and his team study state and federal endangered and threatened fish species in river ecosystems, including the Arkansas, Kansas, Gila, San Juan, Red and Platte rivers. He travels to these different rivers to study imperiled species such as the Colorado pikeminnow, the loach minnow, the spikedace in New Mexico and the plains minnow and silver chub in Kansas.
Before the drought, Gido's team observed more than 300 silver chub in the Ninnescah River in southern Kansas in summer 2011. In 2012, after the second consecutive year of severe drought, his team saw three silver chub during their sampling. They found zero silver chub in spring 2013.
"We are in a conservation crisis," Gido said. "Our fish communities have changed dramatically and we are losing a lot of native species."
Gido said two activities -- river fragmentation and groundwater withdrawals -- largely affect aquatic systems and native fish species in the Great Plains. When combined with the drought, these two activities result in dramatically reduced fish communities and lower species diversity. River fragmentation occurs when barriers, such as dams, break up the long sections of connected river and create shorter segments.
Gido and his research team -- including Joshuah Perkin, a postdoctoral researcher and 2012 Kansas State University doctoral graduate in biology, and Thomas Turner, a population geneticist at the University of New Mexico -- have spent years studying how river fragmentation affects fish communities in Great Plains rivers. They are currently studying the genetic diversity of populations in different rivers and different fragment sizes.