Jennifer Backer, Effects Of Acid Mine Drainage On Limnological Conditions And Fish Assemblages In The Cumberland Plateau Region Of The North Chickamauga Creek System, Tennessee
Faculty Chair: Dr. Mark Schorr
Acid mine drainage (AMD) is the primary water pollution problem in Appalachian streams. The Cumberland Plateau (Southwestern Appalachians ecoregion) portion of North Chickamauga Creek (NCC), a fourth-order tributary to the Tennessee River (Tennessee), has been impacted by decades of AMD from active and abandoned coal mines. I assessed stream characteristics at 19 sites in the Cumberland Plateau region of the NCC system; these data were used to create a GIS database. Limnological conditions and fish assemblage attributes were compared between AMD-impacted and reference sites. Relationships were examined among water quality, habitat, and fish assemblage variables. Stream pH averaged lower at AMD than reference sites (5.1 vs. 6.3); pH values in the 3-5 range were observed at most of the AMD sites. Conductivity averaged higher at AMD than reference sites (123.31 uS/cm vs. 17.96 uS/cm). Most habitat features were similar between AMD-impacted and reference sites. Electrofishing surveys collected a total of eight fish species (N=859 individuals), represented by the families Cyprinidae (2 species) and Centrarchidae (6 species). Cyprinids accounted for 93% of the catch at the reference sites, while centrarchids comprised 92% of the catch at AMD sites. Fish species richness and abundance (cyprinids and total) estimates averaged lower at AMD than reference sites. Stream pH was positively correlated with fish species richness and abundance. Conductivity was negatively correlated with fish abundance. Findings from my study document the negative effects of AMD on stream \ water quality and fish assemblages in the NCC system.