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Status of the Arkansas Darter in South-central
Kansas and Adjacent Oklahoma


The Arkansas darter (Etheostoma cragini) is endemic to the middle Arkansas River Basin from eastern Colorado through southwestern Missouri and northwestern Arkansas (Cloutman 1980). There are two geographic regions occupied by the Arkansas darter within its range. One region lies in the Great Plains of southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, and northwestern Oklahoma. The type locality of E. cragini(Gilbert 1885) is in this region near Garden City, Kansas, although the species no longer occurs at this site (Cross 1967). Populations in Colorado are now isolated from the main group of populations in Kansas and Oklahoma, but the location of the type locality suggests that its distribution might have been "continuous" prior to EuroAmerican settlement. The other center of distribution is in the Ozark Plateau within the Spring, Neosho (Grand), and Illinois river drainages of southwestern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, northeastern Oklahoma, and northwestern Arkansas. The type locality for Etheostoma pagei (Meek 1894), a synonym of E. cragini, is located in this region near Neosho, Missouri.

The Arkansas darter typically lives in small streams with clear, cool water (generally less than 25C) in the vicinity of springs or groundwater seeps with abundant broad-leaved aquatic vegetation (Moss 1981). Usually this habitat is in pools or near-shore areas with little flow and a substrate of sand or gravel, often overlain by silt, leaves, or other organic debris. Larger adults also have been found near undercut banks where terrestrial vegetation extends into flowing water (Taber et al. 1986). On the plains, Moss (1981) suggested that most Arkansas darters occurred where the stream was directly exposed to sunlight, which likely is important for the growth of dense beds of aquatic vascular plants. He also observed habitat segregation of the young and adults. Young Arkansas darters occupied shallow, open areas where spawning occurred, while adults resided in aquatic vegetation.

The Arkansas darter is listed as a protected species by most of the states where it occurs. These states and their respective designations for the Arkansas darter are: Arkansas, vulnerable (rare); Colorado, threatened; Kansas, threatened; and Oklahoma, endangered. Missouri delisted the species, because populations in that state were judged to be stable (Pflieger 1992). Stream degradation caused by livestock has been cited as a threat in Arkansas (Harris and Smith 1985) and could threaten populations elsewhere (Pigg et al. 1985, Pflieger 1992). Specific water pollutants that might pose a threat to the Arkansas darter have not been documented. The principal threat to the Arkansas darter on the Great Plains is the loss of its preferred habitat in small, groundwater-fed streams. Groundwater mining for irrigation and other agricultural operations, sometimes aggravated by periods of drought, has caused several stream reaches in the Great Plains to become ephemeral or intermittent; this, in turn, has led to local extirpations of the Arkansas darter (Cross et al. 1985). The purpose of our study was to assess the status of the Arkansas darter in south-central Kansas and adjacent areas of Oklahoma (Fig. 1). This was done to support a review by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the possible inclusion of the Arkansas darter on its list of threatened species.

Figure 1
Figure 1.  Diagram of streams in the study area in south-central Kansas and adjacent Oklahoma. BC = Bluff Creek, CC = Crooked Creek, CR = Chikaskia River, MLR = Medicine Lodge River, NFNR = North Fork Ninnescah River, NR = Ninnescah River, RC = Rattlesnake Creek, SFAR = Salt Fork Arkansas River, SFNR = South Fork Ninnescah River.

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