Field Report: Paluxy River Bioblitz

You, too, can “fish for science”

Photos by Joe Esparza

More than a dozen TSC members braved an uncertain forecast May 30 to join a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department River Studies team and biologists from the University of Texas Natural History Collection in an aquatic habitat bio-assessment of the Paluxy River at Dinosaur Valley State Park.

Coalition volunteers pulled seines, assisted electro-shocking teams, checked traps, and measured fish throughout a day that threatened rain.

Coalition members Alana Lyons (left) and Collin Hall (right) pull a seine to collect specimens under the tutelage of UT’s Melissa Casarez.

Coalition members Alana Lyons (left) and Collin Hall (right) pull a seine to collect specimens under the tutelage of UT’s Melissa Casarez.

“The TSC is definitely one of the most passionate groups that I have ever had the privilege to work alongside – that was quite evident during our short time together,” said TPWD inland fisheries biologist Stephen Curtis.

Melissa Casarez, assistant ichthyology collection manager at the University of Texas Biodiversity Collections said she was grateful for the willingness of coalition members to get their feet wet and their hands dirty.

“I’ve never had so many folks willing to pull a seine,” she said. “It definitely made my job easier.”

Coalition members said they were more than rewarded with a crash course in river ecosystems and field identification.

Gabriel Langley, a coalition member who lives in nearby Granbury, has been fishing the Paluxy for years.

TPWD Inland Fisheries Biologist Stephen Curtis examines a catfish collected during the bioblitz.

TPWD Inland Fisheries Biologist Stephen Curtis examines a catfish collected during the bioblitz.

“The Paluxy River has long been one of my favorite hidden Texas river gems,” Langley said. “it is awesome to see the involvement of TPWD on this bioblitz, and to learn more the river’s bio systems.”

Langley noted that  Dinosaur Valley State Park has seen an estimated 300 percent growth in visitors over the past two years.

“We need to take action to protect this small and fragile ecosystem,” he said. “I feel like this is a huge step in the right direction.

The bioblitz was just one part of an ongoing, collaborative effort between UT and TPWD to thoroughly survey nearly every aspect of the Paluxy River watershed, a stream that has not been systematically sampled in nearly half a century.

“There’s a unified goal of conserving our native Texas fishes through preservation and restoration of the aquatic and riparian communities and habitats they live in,” said Casarez. “The sampling we’re doing is intended to provide baseline data to help steer prioritization of conservation efforts and management. Each group brings different strengths and resources to the table, but the overall objective is a habitat-based approach to conservation.”

Single-line sampling, or “fishing for science”

TSC President John Henry Boatright engaged in single-line sampling, which looks a lot like fly fishing but is much more serious. Not really. It’s fly fishing. With fin clips and photos.

TSC President John Henry Boatright engaged in single-line sampling, which looks a lot like fly fishing but is much more serious. Not really. It’s fly fishing. With fin clips and photos.

As part of that effort, TPWD biologists prepared fin clip kits for TSC members, who will continue single-line sampling efforts through the end of August. Every black bass a volunteer catches that is not clearly a largemouth bass is photographed, geo-referenced, and uploaded to an iNaturalist project (“Guadalupe and Spotted Bass Genetics Study) with the corresponding number of the vial that contains a fin clip from the fish. After all of the fin clips have been collected and turned over to scientists at TPWD’s A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery, geneticists will analyze the samples to determine whether the suspect fish are Guadalupe bass, spotted bass, or hybrids of the two species.

“This fin clip project is a great opportunity for folks to get out in the water and help TPWD gather valuable data on what varieties of bass are found in the Paluxy,” said Matt Bennett, a TSC board member who serves as chair of the coalition’s Wildlife Conservation Committee. “It’s a great excuse to take a few extra days on the water this summer and go fish - for science!”

The first half dozen fin clips, from members Greg DeMars and Brent Ormand, have already been added to the project, and volunteers will have ample opportunity to add more before the Aug. 31 deadline. Meanwhile, TPWD’s Stephen Curtis expanded the project to include gap sampling of areas of the Little River basin from which the department received only a handful of specimens in a recent analysis of black basses there. Of particular interest are the headwaters forks of the San Gabriel River, small tributaries like Berry Creek, and lower reaches of Brushy Creek.

TSC members can” fish for science” by contacting Matt Bennett through FlyGeek.net, or John Henry Boatright, for a fin clip kit and instructions on how to log observations on iNaturalist.

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