Ecosystems Investigations Program

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Mission Statement

To promote the wise management, development, and conservation of Alabama's water resources for the betterment of its citizens, and businesses through practice of the geological, hydrological, and biological sciences.





Etheostoma trisella




Aquatic biodiversity in Alabama ranks very high nationally, due in part to the state's many river systems, diverse geology, and subtropical/temperate climate. Examining and monitoring this diversity offers Survey biologists the opportunity to assess important factors that affect the quality of our water resources.  Moreover, Survey biologists accrue basic aquatic biological information through intensive field work that can be used to monitor and manage Alabama's water resources more effectively and efficiently. This information is used in resource management and species distribution studies and is available for public use.





                         Lepomis Marginatus                                                                                               Cambarus Diogenes




The Ecosystems Investigations Program has three basic research functions; biological surveys, water quality monitoring/assessment, and interdisciplinary watershed studies. Investigations by Survey biologists in the recent past documented the habitats and distributions of fishes in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and the Tennessee, Cahaba, lower Tombigbee, and Black Warrior River systems; in the Gilbertown, Pollard, and Citronelle oil field areas; and in streams draining the Warrior coalfield. Investigating Alabama's rich mussel fauna in numerous river systems statewide has also been performed recently, including the Alabama, Chattahoochee, Choctawhatchee, Conecuh, Tennessee, and Tombigbee Rivers and their tributaries. Survey biologists are also assisting in developing distribution information on the relatively unknown crayfish fauna of the state through field collecting, database development of collection records, and producing species distribution maps. The Survey maintains small reference collections of fishes, mussels, crayfishes, and aquatic insects that are available for scientific use or public tour. 








Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin, an 820-page book mapping the distribution of more than 300 species of freshwater and selected marine fishes, was completed in 1996 by Survey biologists in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). The book is designed to appeal to a variety of readers of from the fisherman to the scientist. Special features of the book include detailed, full-color photographs   of more than 300 species of freshwater and marine fishes; color physiographic maps showing dot distributions for 300 fish species in those areas; and a species checklist.



sturg 1

Gulf Sturgeon




The Ecosystems Investigations Program has also been actively involved in documenting the movements of large riverine fishes in Alabama, such as the southeastern blue sucker, smallmouth buffalo, paddlefish, and Gulf sturgeon. These studies have led to a better understanding of how fishes utilize rivers throughout the year and will assist state and federal conservation agencies and river management agencies to better fulfill their water resources mandates and obligations.





Cave shrimp




Past biological/water-quality monitoring studies have assessed the impacts of pollution, timber management practices, coalbed methane production, and coal mining on aquatic ecosystems in the Cahaba River and Locust, Mulberry, and Sipsey Forks of the Black Warrior River.  Monitoring a population of the endangered Alabama cave shrimp and water quality in Bobcat Cave and Matthews Caves, as well as the population of Tuscumbia darters in Williams Spring, all on Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, provides the U.S.   Army with the information it needs to protect these animals and their habitats. Intensive surveys of caves in north Alabama led to the discovery of a new population of the Alabama cave shrimp and provided valuable records of other cave-dwelling species.




Fish sampling




Survey biologists have worked closely with biologists of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and ADCNR to develop a standardized fish community sampling protocol and statewide analysis tool for evaluating stream biological condition.  This tool will be invaluable for evaluating stream water quality and providing biological justification to water quality management decisions. Additionally, the Ecosystems Investigation Program has recently partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alabama Clean Water Partnership, and ADCNR to focus on recovery and restoration of rare aquatic animals through a process known as the Strategic Habitat Initiative. Bringing watershed stakeholders and partners cooperatively together to improve aquatic habitat and water quality will be a significant part of how water resources will be managed and protected in the future and the Ecosystems Investigation Program is helping to put this process into effect.










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