By Adrienne Fouts
A new study released by the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the University of Georgia River Basin Center documents the diversity of freshwater life in the Southeast and the importance of improving the region’s watersheds.
The lakes, rivers and streams of the southeastern United States are a “hotspot for freshwater biodiversity,” according to the December study. They contain almost two-thirds of the nation’s fish species, over 90 percent of the nation’s types of mussels and nearly half of the world’s crayfish species.
However, human development and insufficient conservation efforts have threatened the region’s watersheds. Freshwater aquatic animals outside the Southeast receive approximately 35 to 52 times more federal funding per species than those in the region, according to the study. In addition, there is comparatively little federally protected land in the Southeast — only about 3.5 percent of the study’s focus area.
Researchers identified the highest-priority watersheds in the region based on the number of species they contained, the animals’ conservation status and how widespread they were. Watersheds in northern Alabama and middle to lower Tennessee were determined to be the most vulnerable. The study also proposed increased overall funding for conservation.