Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | May 1, 2019
From Missouri Conservationist: May 2019

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Fisheries Management

Niangua Darter Recovery

The Niangua darter is small, only 4 inches long, but it plays a large role in the Niangua Watershed’s ecosystem.

“It’s been an indicator species for years,” said Craig Fuller, an MDC fisheries management biologist and leader of the Niangua Darter Recovery Team.

The darter’s decline indicated its habitat was also declining. In 1985, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the darter as threatened, citing causes such as reservoir construction, general deterioration of stream habitat, and the introduction of nonnative fishes. In 2003, Fuller’s team identified an additional cause: low-water road crossings found throughout the darter’s range.

“These created barriers,” Fuller said, “keeping fish and other aquatic organisms from accessing food, mates, and habitat.”

In 2004, the team developed a solution that would improve the fish’s chances of recovery and benefit the people living, working, and recreating in the Niangua Watershed.

They worked with county and state highway departments as well as private engineers to design better crossings that would allow for the fish’s passage and provide safer bridges for the public.

The team started with the Little Niangua River, replacing 10 road crossings that created barriers. The team completed the first replacement in 2004 and the last in 2013. As a result, they reconnected more than 55 miles of stream habitat.

Next, the team moved into the entire Niangua Watershed, replacing five more low-water crossings. By the end of 2017, they had reconnected an additional 62 miles of Niangua Watershed stream habitat.

Niangua Darter Recovery at a Glance

Niangua Watershed Bridges
  • 15 - Number of bridges installed
  • 117 - Number of stream miles reconnected
Early Results

2015 monitoring on the Little Niangua River indicated darters were moving into reconnected habitat.

Project Partners
  • Dallas, Hickory, and Camden county commissions
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Great River Associates
  • Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation
  • Missouri Department of Conservation
  • Missouri Department of Transportation
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler