Mar. 8, 2004 Think everything is known about America's biodiversity? Think again, says Saint Louis University biologist Richard Mayden, Ph.D. The chairman of SLU's biology department, Mayden has discovered a new species of fish, not in the depths of the tropics, but in the "wilds" of western Tennessee.
Mayden, along with his colleague and former doctoral student Steven Powers, Ph.D., of Reinhardt College in Georgia, recently discovered the Chickasaw darter, Etheostoma cervus, in the Forked Deer River, which is about an hour and a half northeast of Memphis.
"Most people think that basically everything is known about the biodiversity of the United States," Mayden said. "I beg to differ."
Having already discovered and described 10 previously unknown species from rivers in North America and working on another 30 descriptions of new species, Mayden said current predictions of biodiversity are underestimated.
Some people might assume that this new fish must be cryptically colored or not too flashy, helping it escape the notice of naturalists. That's hardly the case, Mayden said.
"This species is spectacularly colorful, especially the males during their breeding season," he said.
But how did this striking fish remain undiscovered? Mayden said one of the main reasons is that researchers mostly are looking elsewhere. That's where the funding is too, with most agencies supporting efforts to inventory tropical regions or areas under high risk of being lost.
"The reality is that there is a heck of a lot of biodiversity that has yet to be discovered in this country," Mayden said. "Even people in inner cities are living among fish species that haven't been described or discovered by scientists."
Mayden added that the newly discovered Chickasaw darter, like many other small stream fish, is endangered in its native habitat and should be considered for state and federal protection. The new species was described in the last edition of the peer-reviewed journal "Copeia,"
World-renowned artist Joseph R. Tomelleri illustrated the new fish for Mayden using specialized techniques with color pencil. Tomelleri has illustrated 700 color images of freshwater fish in Mayden's upcoming book on the Fishes of Alabama by Smithsonian Institution Press. More of Tomelleri's illustrations can be viewed online at http://www.americanfishes.com.
Saint Louis University is a Jesuit, Catholic university ranked among the top research institutions in the nation. The University fosters the intellectual and character development of 11,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Founded in 1818, it is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and the second oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Through teaching, research, health care and community service, Saint Louis University is the place where knowledge touches lives. Learn more about SLU at http://www.slu.edu.
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