ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We should therefore focus efforts when possible on keeping already healthy watersheds healthy.
Our next step was to categorize and compare the physical diversity of watersheds and the plants and animals that live in them.
We used the Missouri Aquatic Ecological Classification System, which was created by the Missouri Resource Assessment Partnership in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy. The system divides Missouri’s watersheds and, thus, aquatic habitats into smaller and smaller distinct units based on their geology, soils, topography and other features until all the unique aquatic habitats in Missouri are identified.
Once we determined each unique type of aquatic ecosystem in Missouri, we could then choose a representative watershed for each type that presented the best opportunity for conservation success.
To further fine-tune the process, we considered the level of pollution, the amount of impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, and other aquatic resource stressors in the watershed. We also looked at the number of aquatic species present and the amount of public land within the watershed.
Ultimately, we chose watersheds with the greatest aquatic diversity, the least stress, and the best opportunity for proactive conservation.
This process resulted in the selection of 158 streams and their watersheds. These stream systems have been called Aquatic Conservation Opportunity Areas because they represent the diversity of watersheds, aquatic systems and species throughout Missouri and provide our best opportunities to conserve representatives of nearly all of Missouri’s aquatic life.
In the Central Plains Subregion, we identified 49 Aquatic COAs that capture the full array of aquatic communities and species representative of this region. The Union Ridge Aquatic COA is a terrific example in north central Missouri. Spring Creek flows through this COA and has a high-quality prairie/savanna watershed that is mostly in public ownership.
This prairie stream, with its narrow channels, rocky riffles and deep pools, supports nearly 30 species of fish, including channel catfish, brassy minnows and white suckers. It also supports the flat floater mussel, as well as grassland crayfish and papershell crayfish.
The Mississippi Alluvial Plains Subregion, Missouri’s Bootheel, had only 15 Aquatic COAs. That’s because this region is small and has fewer landscape types than other regions. Because of heavy human impact in the area, there were not a large number of healthy streams to choose from, but those chosen are high-quality representative habitat types and excellent places to focus conservation efforts.
In this subregion, the Mingo COA