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Studying contaminants, inhabitants of water system

Fish in some Kansas streams may not be profitable to anglers, but that doesn't mean these fish -- many of which are too small to catch using a rod and reel -- aren't valuable.

By Staci Hauschild



Fish swimming in water
Photo by April M. Blackmon.


"Just because something doesn't have an economic value doesn't mean we shouldn't take care of it on this earth," said Chris Guy, associate professor of biology at Kansas State University. "They do have value as indicators of our water quality."

Guy said Kansas water quality has been ranked very low by state and federal agencies. Because some fish species are intolerant of poor water quality and habitat, scientists can identify an impaired stream when there are fewer fish than normal in an area.

"In the state of Kansas we have several fish species that use a variety of habitats," Guy said. "When we sample a stream and we find only a few species we can hypothesize that something is influencing the stream environment. The tough part is determining what causes species to disappear from a stream."

Guy said scientists use Kings Creek, a stream entirely on Konza Prairie Biological Station, as a natural variation to which other streams are compared.

"The watershed, basically, is characteristic of what it used to be in pre-settlement days," he said. "We use Kings Creek as this pristine, natural stream probably very characteristic of what streams looked like before white man settled the area. We can study Kings Creek and see what to expect in fish communities and how they respond to natural variations in environmental conditions."

While Kings Creek is used as a comparative study for other Kansas streams, Guy said its small size limits the research that can be done.

"The headwaters of it can become dry so there's not a lot of fish species in there relative to some of the other streams in the state where the water flows year-round." he said.

Guy said three species -- the creek chub, the central stoneroller and the southern red belly dace -- make up about 90 percent of the stream's fish population.

June 2002