A University of Central Oklahoma researcher and two Yale colleagues believe a smallmouth bass in the Ouachita Mountain streams of southeastern Oklahoma is a unique species based on genetic studies.
Andrew Taylor, assistant professor of fisheries biology at UCO, recently co-authored research findings with Yale University colleagues Daemin Kim and Thomas J. Near in Springer Nature’s “Scientific Reports,” which led to the potential discovery of a new species of fish.
The researchers have dubbed the smallmouth bass in the Little River basin of southeastern Oklahoma the “Little River Bass.” That fish can only be found in the Little River drainage of the Ouachita Mountains in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
“From the genetics, we see this (fish) has its own evolutionary lineage. The genetics suggest there is probably a species there,” Taylor said. “It’s related to smallmouth, but it’s its own thing. This is a new genetic discovery, but it needs to be corroborated with ecological and morphological studies.”
More:How Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation became a Twitter sensation
The same is true of Neosho Smallmouth Bass found in the Ozark Mountain streams of northeastern Oklahoma. Those bass had already been considered a sub-species of smallmouth bass.
Researchers were studying black bass populations in the country for distinct species. The Little River bass and its genetic distinctions from other smallmouth was a surprising discovery, Taylor said.
“It was kind of one farthest off people’s radar,” Taylor said of the Little River smallmouth bass. “We were kind of surprised to see that pop out as a new species.”
The smallmouth bass stocked in Oklahoma lakes are the Tennessee strain of smallmouth that are fairly common in much of the United States, but native only to an area roughly west of the Appalachian Mountains, east of the Mississippi River and north of Alabama and Georgia.
The Tennessee strain of smallmouth bass were stocked in 49 places by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in the late ’80s to the early’ 90s before it was well understood that they were a completely different species than what Oklahoma already had.
They were introduced to many reservoirs throughout the state to give Oklahoma’s anglers more fishing opportunities. Some of these reservoirs (Broken Bow, Lawtonka, Eufaula, Tenkiller, Murray and others) do sustain a naturally spawning population of the non-native smallmouth bass, state wildlife officials said.
All smallmouth bass were once considered one species. In the early 1940s, researchers noted physical and biological differences in the stream-dwelling bass in the Ozark Mountains and Ouachita Mountains and suggested they might be different from the northern smallmouth bass.
More:As bear sightings increase across Oklahoma in early summer, ‘it is important to be bear wise’
Since then, those populations have been referred to as “Neosho Smallmouth Bass” and “Ouachita Smallmouth Bass” and each have been treated as a subspecies of the Northern Smallmouth Bass.
Using modern genetics tools, Taylor and his colleagues recommend that Neosho Smallmouth Bass be elevated to a distinct species now referred to as “Neosho Bass.” These fish are native to the Ozark streams (Elk River, Illinois River, Baron Fork, etc.) of northeastern Oklahoma that flow into the Arkansas River.
They also elevated the native populations in southeast Oklahoma in the Little Rivers drainages (Little River, Mountain Fork, Glover River, etc.) to a distinct species referred to as the “Little River Bass.”
Both Taylor and Ken Cunningham, chief of fisheries at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said more studies need to be done before it can be determined for certain that these fish should be classified as distinct species.
State wildlife officials say they will continue to conduct standard fisheries surveys on these populations. The Wildlife Department will likely use a social media campaign to encourage anglers to not self-stock bass in different water bodies to maintain genetic integrity as these species can hybridize with northern smallmouth bass, Cunningham said.
Based on genetic differences, Taylor and his Yale colleagues believe there are 19 different black bass species in the United States, including the smallmouth bass in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains of Oklahoma.
‘It’s a jaw-dropper’:Why summer bat watches at Selman Bat Cave are must-see viewing
DU convention on tap
Oklahoma Ducks Unlimited will hold its state convention Friday and Saturday in Bricktown with national Ducks Unlimited president Doug Schoenrock coming to Oklahoma City to deliver the keynote address.
Oklahoma Ducks Unlimited set a record for fundraising during the past fiscal year by reaching $ 1 million for the first time.
Oklahoma Ducks Unlimited donates money to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for various projects, such as improvements on public wildlife management areas, most notably Drummond Flats in Garfield County and Hackberry Flat in Tillman County.
Last year, duck hunting took a dip, but Oklahoma continues to be a hidden jewel for waterfowl hunting, said Randall Cole, Oklahoma Ducks Unlimited state chairman.
“We’ve been wet for 20 years up until last year and the drought hit a good portion of the United States and the prairie of Canada,” Cole said.
“The numbers (of ducks) were down but, overall, it was a good season. Oklahoma is still the best kept secret that is starting to get out. We are starting to see more duck hunters from out of state, more people inside the state picking up the sport. “
Oklahoma has about 47 Ducks Unlimited chapters in the state, and it is crucial for waterfowl hunters to be involved in conservation efforts, said Cole, of Seminole.
“The more people involved creates more dollars for conservation. More wetlands. More habitat. It’s not just about ducks. Everything needs water.”
The state convention will be held at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Oklahoma City. For more information, go to ducksunlimited.org.
Reporter Ed Godfrey looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports – you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @EdGodfrey. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.