Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Mississippi
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Killgore, K.J., J.J. Hoover, L.E. Miranda, and W.T. Slack. 2024. Fish conservation in streams of the agrarian Mississippi Alluvial Valley: conceptual model, management actions, and field verification. Frontiers in Freshwater Science.


Agriculture and flood control practices accrued over more than a century have impaired aquatic habitats and their fish communities in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, the historic floodplain of the Lower Mississippi River prior to leveeing. As a first step to conservation planning and adaptive management, we developed and tested a conceptual model of how changes to this floodplain have affected stream environments and fish assemblages. The model is deliberately simple in structure because it needs to be understood by stakeholders ranging from engineers to farmers who must remain engaged to ensure effective conservation. Testing involved multivariate correlative analyses that included descriptors of land setting, water quality, and fish assemblages representing 376 stream samples taken over two decades and ranging in Strahler stream order from 1 to 8. The conceptual model was adequately corroborated by empirical data, but with unexplained variability that is not uncommon in field surveys where gear biases, temporal biases, and scale biases prevent accurate characterizations. Complete restoration of this floodplain may not be an acceptable option to the agriculture community. However, in most cases the application of even the most basic measures can support the return of key aquatic species. To this end our conceptual model distinguishes three types of conservation actions relevant to large agricultural floodplains: reforestation of large parcels and riparian zone conservation, in-channel interventions and connectivity preservation, and flow augmentation. We suggest that together these types of conservation actions can bring improved water properties to impacted reaches, higher reach biodiversity, more intolerant species, and more rheophilic fishes.