Mississippi Piedmont Rivers & Streams

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Powell River Claiborne County, Tennessee, United States Of America.
© WWF-Canon / Kevin SCHAFER

About the Area

The main rivers of the ecoregion are the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Ohio. This ecoregion arguably encompasses the richest temperate freshwater ecosystems in the world, as measured by the hundreds of highly localised endemic species that have evolved in ancient river systems.
The diversity of habitats, age, favourable climate, geologic stability of the region, and its escape from glaciation during the last Ice Age, have contributed to the evolution of a high diversity of animals.

There is an isolation created by the ridges, valleys, and the large number of rivers and streams in this region that results in localised endemism where some species live only in a very limited area or one body of water.

For example, Tennessee's Clinch River alone has 40 species of coexisting unionid mussels (20 other species have already been eliminated), with any relatively intact stream in this region supporting more mussels than all of Australia and Europe combined.
Size:
525,000 sq. km (200,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Large River Headwaters

Geographic Location:
Eastern North America: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
Among the numerous species of at risk endemic mussels are dromedary pearlymussel (Dromus dromas), birdwing pearlymussel (Lemiox rimosus), and oyster mussel (Epioblasma capsaeformis).

Imperiled endemic fishes include slackwater darter (Etheostoma boschungi), duskytail darter (E. percnurum), palezone shiner (Notropis albizonatus), smoky madtom (Noturus baileyi), and paddlefish (Polydon spathula).

This ecoregion is also home to numerous endemic salamanders, including the West Virginia spring salamander (Gyrinophilus subterraneus), imitator salamander (Desmognathus imitator), shovelnose salamander (Leurognathus marmoratus), Tennessee cave salamander (Gyrinophilus palleucus), and streamside salamander (Ambyostoma barbouri). The Nashville crayfish (Orconectes shoupi) is also endemic to this ecoregion.

Featured species

Smoky madtom (Noturus baileyi)

This is a small member of the catfish family, with a slender body and flat head, it grows to about 6.4cm (2.5 in) in length. The head and body is light brownish with a contrasting colour pattern consisting of dorsal blotchings. There is little information currently available on the biology of the smoky madtom. However, its feeding habits are probably nocturnal with aquatic insects being the most likely food.

The smoky madtom was first described in1957, but was presumed extinct until 1980. Current population of this species is estimated to be just 500-1,000 fish. It’s future conservation is further compromised by the fact that it is only found in a small area of the Citico Creek, a tributory of the Little Tennessee River.

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Threats
Hydroelectric projects, channelisation, water withdrawals, pollution, and introduction of the non-native zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) and other exotics threaten the ecoregion. The Tennessee River system has more than 50 major dams, with many remaining freshwater species restricted to small segments of unaltered tributaries.
WWF’s work
Nissan North America and WWF have formed a new partnership to identify and empower young leaders on college campuses nationwide to become strong and effective advocates for the environment. Nissan is also investing in WWF's Southeastern Rivers and Streams Support Fund, which awards grants to grassroots projects to clean up polluted watersheds in the southeastern United States.

WWF-US has identified priority watersheds where it is assessing the threats and, working with partners to design strategies to address these threats. Action includes strengthening private and public initiatives that aim to increase the aquatic biodiversity and protect the habitats of at-risk species. It also implements projects that demonstrate best practice in water and land management, but also have a positive impact on biodiversity conservation.

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