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  Tennessee Aquarium Researcher Awarded Conservation Grant
    Freshwater Diversity in NC, TN and VA Targeted For Study

Flame Chubs
Flame Chubs at the Tennessee Aquarium
Photo by Todd Stailey

Chattanooga, Tenn. (September 12th, 2007) – Stargazing Minnow, Warpaint Shiner and Rosyside Dace may not be common names to most fisherman in the Southeast, but according to one researcher, they are just as important to area rivers and streams as bluegill, largemouth and stripers.  “Tangerine Darters and Flame Chubs in particular are gorgeous and would amaze people anywhere,” says Dr. Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium’s Research Institute.

George has been awarded a Conservation Endowment Fund Grant from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to examine the genetic diversity of 10 fish species in the region.  Her study will cover 10 stream systems in the upper Tennessee River drainage which run through parts of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The project will begin by searching natural history museum databases to find out which tributaries in the Tennessee River drainage have the most species.  Once those areas are identified, researchers will begin collecting DNA samples from the 10 targeted species in the field. “DNA sequencing information is important because it tells us how much genetic diversity there is in each species, which is a key indicator of health” says George.  “More diversity in the genes typically means there are more individuals in a population, and that population is also more resistant to environmental stress.”

Five of the species chosen by Dr. George have been considered “Greatest Conservation Need” by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, meaning that while they are not yet endangered, they are declining in abundance.  This project will allow researchers to recommend plans to prevent the studied fishes from becoming endangered.  This work will also help biologists identify whether there is a connection between the number of species and the diversity of genes in a river.  “If so,” says George, “those rivers would be our ‘hotspots of diversity’ and we would want to have more conservation action directed at them.”

The southeastern United States has more species of freshwater fish than any other temperate region in the world. The Tennessee Aquarium’s Research Institute is committed to conservation of native aquatic animals and their habitats through research like this, ecosystem restoration and educational programs.

The $20, 791 Conservation Endowment Fund grant award was one of 19 grants awarded this year by AZA.  The study is expected to take up to one year to complete.
                                                                
The 10 species studied will include: Rosyside Dace, Tennessee Dace, Flame Chub, Warpaint Shiner, Stargazing Minnow, Swannanoa Darter, Wounded Darter, Tangerine Darter, Gilt Darter and the Olive Darter.

The 10 rivers included in the study are the: Clinch, Powell, North Fork Holston, South Fork Holston, Emory, Nolichucky, French Broad, Little, Little Tennessee and Hiwassee.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of accredited zoos and aquariums in the areas of animal care, wildlife conservation, education and science. AZA is America's leading accrediting organization for zoos and aquariums and accredits only those institutions that have achieved rigorous standards for animal care, education, wildlife conservation and science.  The Tennessee Aquarium is an AZA accredited institution.

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