Fishes in Paleochannels of the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley: A National Treasure

Gayden Brake, a paleochannel in Leflore County, Mississippi. Photo credit: L. E. Miranda.

Gayden Brake, a paleochannel in Leflore County, Mississippi. Photo credit: L. E. Miranda.

By  L. E. Miranda

Abstract

Fluvial geomorphology of the alluvial valley of the Lower Mississippi River reveals a fascinating history. A prominent occupant of the valley was the Ohio River, estimated to have flowed 25,000 years ago over western Tennessee and Mississippi to join the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 750–800 km south of the present confluence. Over time, shifts in the Mississippi and Ohio rivers toward their contemporary positions have left a legacy of abandoned paleochannels supportive of unique fish assemblages. Relative to channels abandoned in the last 500 years, paleochannels exhibit harsher environmental conditions characteristic of hypereutrophic lakes and support tolerant fish assemblages. Considering their ecological, geological, and historical importance, coupled with their primordial scenery, the hundreds of paleochannels in the valley represent a national treasure. Altogether, these waterscapes are endangered by human activities and would benefit from the conservation attention afforded to our national parks and wildlife refuges.

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