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Population status and life history attributes of the Texas Shiner Notropis amabilis.


Notropis amabilis (Girard) (Texas Shiner) is a small bodied cyprinid with a distribution restricted to the Edwards Plateau region of Texas and Rio Grande drainage of U.S.A. and Mexico (Hubbs et al., 2008). Texas Shiner is in the subgenus Notropis and its closest extant relatives are Rio Grande Shiner Notropis jemezanus, Sharpnose Shiner Notropis oxyrhynchus, and Emerald Shiner Notropis atherinoides (Bielawski and Gold, 2001). Although the paleobiogeography of Texas Shiner is currendy unclear, a proposed pathway of speciation is that the subgenus Notropis ancestor gained access to the Pecos River from the north through historical connections with eastern flowing drainages of the Southern Great Plains during the Neogene (Conner and Suttkus, 1986) or Quaternary (Echelle and Echelle, 1978) periods. A later derived ancestor of Texas Shiner and its closest phylogenetic relative Rio Grande Shiner (Bielawski and Gold, 2001) were exchanged through Pleistocene connectivity between the Pecos River and Edwards Plateau drainages (e.g., Colorado River) and eventually the Rio Grande drainage (Echelle and Echelle, 1978). During Pleistocene interglacial climates, the ancestral form of Texas Shiner became isolated in refugia of persistent spring complexes within the Edwards Plateau drainages (Coburn, 1982).

Current distribution of Texas Shiner is within and downstream from spring complexes from the San Gabriel River in the Brazos River basin on the northeast extent of its range, to the Pecos River basin in the west, and to the Rio Grande basin in the south (Garrett et al., 2002; Hubbs et al., 2008). Due to its limited distribution and association with spring complexes of the Edwards Plateau region, Texas Shiner is considered a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) by Texas Parks and Wildlife since 2001; however, population status of Texas Shiner is largely unknown. Texas Shiner associates with clear water, pool habitats, and moderate current velocities (0.1 m/s) and sand, gravel, cobble, and bedrock substrates (Bean et al., 2007; Kollaus and Bonner, 2012). Other life history attributes (i.e., reproductive ecology and food habits) have not been investigated. Understanding of current conservation status and life history attributes will benefit conservation efforts of Texas Shiner and provide additional insights into life history traits selected among a phylogenetically diverse community of spring-associated fishes.

Purposes of this study were to assess population status within the known range of Texas Shiner distribution and to describe basic life history attributes. Based on latitudinal trends of reproductive seasons (Gotelli and Pyron, 1991), Texas Shiner would be expected to have a 5.5 mo reproductive season. However, other spring-associated fishes of the Edwards Plateau have a protracted reproductive season likely influenced by the stenothermal water of spring complexes within the Edwards Plateau (Hubbs, 1985; Hubbs, 1998; Perkin et al, 2012). We predict Texas Shiner, as a spring-associated species, will have more protracted reproductive season than expected, based on latitude. We also expect food habits and other life history traits will be similar to those reported for its phylogenetic relatives N. jemezanus, N. oxyrhynchus, and N. athernoides. Specifically, that Texas Shiner will consume invertebrates (Sublette et al, 1990, Marks et al, 2001) or plankton (Goldstein and Simon, 1999), have a short life span, and produce multiple clutches within the reproductive season (Durham, 2007). Life history attributes assessed in this study were age at maturation, length and age relationships, length of reproductive season, number and size of oocytes, gut content, frequency of occurrence, and gut percent composition.


Occurrences and relative abundances of Texas Shiner were obtained from museum records, published literature, and unpublished data spanning a collection period between 1850 and 2015. Major gulf slope drainages within the reported range of Texas Shiner were represented by at least one stream; however, not all streams within a drainage were included, because either a museum voucher was not available or relative abundances could not be calculated from the available data. Named streams (e.g., San Gabriel River) or reaches of a named stream (e.g., upper San Marcos River) were included in our population assessment if a museum record of Texas Shiner existed and if relative abundances were available in published or unpublished form. Museum records (Fishes of Texas Project Database, Version 2; Hendrickson and Cohen, 2015) were used to document occurrences in stream or stream reaches. Unverified records within the Fishes of Texas Project Database were excluded. For museum records the earliest date of record was used when more than one record existed for a stream or stream reach. Relative abundances from more recent published and unpublished reports were calculated by stream or stream reach and were categorized using the Abundance, Common, Frequent, Occasional, Rare (ACFOR) scale per stream or stream reach: abundant (>75% in relative abundance), common (50-75%), frequent (25-49%), occasional (5-24%), and rare (1-4%) (Kent and Coker, 1992; Stiers et al, 2011). Failure to detect Texas Shiner (i.e., 0% in relative abundance) suggests, but does not confirm, possible extirpation. In addition some published and unpublished reports provided statistical assessments on temporal trends in Texas Shiner relative abundances. When applicable, population status (i.e., increasing, stable, decreasing trends) per stream or stream reach was noted.

Age and length information was obtained from 10 sites sampled monthly from October 2003 to July 2005 in the Blanco River basin. The Blanco River drains 600 km2 of the Guadalupe River drainage and is typical of many Edwards Plateau streams by having clear hard water and predominately bedrock substrates. The Blanco River is modified by numerous low-head dams, groundwater withdrawals, municipal and agriculture runoff, and wastewater effluents (Bean et al., 2007). Despite these anthropogenic stressors, fish assemblage structure (e.g., taxa occurrence and abundance) is similar to other Edwards Plateau streams and consists of a diverse group of native fishes. Sites were spaced along the Blanco River main stem from near the headwaters to the confluence with the San Marcos River. Sites and locations (Fig. 1) were as follows: 1 (30[degrees]6'14.84"N, 98[degrees]35'2.63"W), 2 (30[degrees]5'35.96"N, 98[degrees]25'18.30"W), 3 (30[degrees]5'1.87"N, 98[degrees]19'19.16"W), 4 (30[degrees]3T8.12"N, 98[degrees]17T2.08"W), 5 (29[degrees]59'3.05"N, 98[degrees]2'33.61"W), 6 (30[degrees]0T6.72"N, 97[degrees]57T4.50"W), 7 (29[degrees]56'13.55"N, 97[degrees]53'42.58"W), and 8 (29[degrees]52T6.54"N, 97[degrees]54'56.28"W). Site 9 (Little Blanco River, 30[degrees]2'27.00"N, 98[degrees]15'8.89"W) and Site 10 (Cypress Creek, 29[degrees]59'48.93"N, 98[degrees]5'50.64"W) were located in the two largest tributaries of the Blanco River. At each site available geomorphic units (i.e., riffles, runs, and pools) were sampled quarterly with a backpack electrofisher (Smith-Root Model 12-B POW) and seines (1.2 by 4.3 m, mesh size: 3.2 mm; 1.8 by 3.7 m, mesh size: 3.2 mm). Texas Shiners were enumerated, measured to the nearest mm, and released. Temporal, number collected by site, and spatial habitat associations are reported in Bean et al. (2007). Modal progression analysis (MPA) in Fish Stock Assessment Tools, version 2 (FiSAT II; Gayanilo et al., 2005) was used to estimate age group and mean total lengths ([+ or -]1 SD) of each age group. Bhattacharya's Method in MPA uses an iterative process, Gaussian function, and timeseries length-frequency histograms to estimate number of age groups and mean length ([+ or -]1 SD) for each age group. Mean total length per age group was the January mean total length, which represents the maximum growth within the preceding year.

In addition to quarterly sampling, nine to 10 adult Texas Shiners were collected monthly at each site from October 2003 to September 2004, exposed to a lethal dose of MS-222 (80 mg/liter) in accordance with IACUC permit 06-0620_802, and preserved in 10% formalin for reproductive analyses and diet. In the laboratory total length (nearest mm) and weight (nearest 1 mg) of preserved specimens were measured. Using a dissecting microscope, gonads were removed, sexed, and weighed for determination of gonadosomatic indices (GSI; [gonad weight/body weight]*100). For each female the stage of ovarian development was classified as immature or resting, developing, mature, or spent (Williams and Bonner, 2006). Measurements of oocyte diameter were taken from the female with the highest GSI each month. Oocytes were separated from surrounding tissue by vigorous shaking in a vial containing 10% formalin. Once separated oocytes were distributed in a clear plastic dish and the diameters of 100 randomly selected developing and mature oocytes were measured to the nearest 0.05 mm along their longest axis using an ocular micrometer and dissecting microscope. To estimate clutch size, total number of mature oocytes were counted in 10 reproductively mature females in April, when GSI values were the greatest. For diet analyses alimentary tracts were removed from three randomly selected individuals each month. Contents from the stomach to the first loop of the intestine were identified to the lowest practical taxon and enumerated using a dissecting microscope. Gut contents were separated into four broad categories (algae, sediment/detritus, terrestrial insects, and aquatic invertebrates) and percent occurrence was calculated for each.


Occurrence and abundance data were obtained for 22 streams and stream reaches within the reported range of Texas Shiner (Table 1). Texas Shiner is possibly extirpated in 14% (n = 3) of streams or stream reaches (San Gabriel River, Barton Creek, and upper San Antonio River). It is rare in 18% (n = 4) of stream reaches, including three main stem river reaches (Llano River, lower San Antonio River, Rio Grande-Del Rio to San Ygnacio) and one tributary stream (Live Oak Creek). Otherwise, contemporary relative abundances of Texas Shiner are categorized as occasional to frequent in 68% (n = 15) of streams and stream reaches.

Based on 1191 fish measured, modal class progression analysis suggested that the Texas Shiner population consisted of 4 y classes (2002 to 2005) from October 2003 to July 2005. Year classes 2002 and 2003 persisted into their third summer (age 2) and were no longer detectable before October of the 3rd y (Fig. 2). During reproductive season (February-October), breeding individuals consisted primarily of age-1 fish: year class 2003 in July 2004 and year class 2004 in July 2005. Age-0 fish (year classes 2004 and 2005) were first captured in the July collections. Mean total lengths ([+ or -] 1 SD) of age-0 fish were 43.6 (4.6) for 2004 year class and 44.4 (10.8) for 2005 year class. Mean total lengths of age-1 fish were 56.8 (2.8) for 2003 2004 2005 2003 year class and 60.5 (2.2) for 2004 year class. The largest Texas Shiner taken was an age 2, 70 mm fish.

A total of 353 Texas Shiners were analyzed for reproductive condition. Mature ovaries were present in three of fourteen females collected in October 2003. All ovaries were classified as immature or resting in individuals collected in November and December 2003. Gonadal recrudescence in Texas Shiners began as early as January 2004 when 24% of females collected contained developing ovaries. Mature ovaries first appeared in February (17% of females). By April 75% of female Texas Shiners contained mature ovaries. From May to July, mature ovaries were found in 25 to 31% of females. Reproduction peaked again in August and September 2004 when 86% and 71% of females, respectively, contained mature ovaries. Trends in female GSI values corresponded with trends in ovarian development. Mean female GSI value for Texas Shiners were <3% from October 2003 to January 2004, increased to 3.8% in February and 5.9% in March, and peaked in April (GSI = 7.0%). Mean GSI values then decreased by early summer to 3.8% in July before a second smaller peak in August (GSI = 5.2%) and September (GSI = 4.6%) (Fig. 3). Clutch size ranged from 102 to 286 with a mean ([+ or -] SD) of 174.5 (62.2). Clutch size was positively correlated with fish size (intercept = 1.03, slope = 0.023, P < 0.01, [r.sup.2] = 0.74). Oocyte diameters ranged from 0.15 to 1.2 mm in diameter. Individuals with mature ovaries (>0.8 mm) exhibited a multimodal distribution suggesting development of multiple cohorts throughout the reproductive season and mature ovaries were present in females from February to October (Fig. 4).

Alimentary tracts of 36 individuals were examined for diet analysis. Food items were present in 31 (86%) Texas Shiner guts examined. Common food items were aquatic insects (71% occurrence) and algae (61%). Among aquatic insects, Ephemeroptera were the most abundant (31% of insects) followed by Trichoptera (26%), Diptera (22%), Coleoptera (12%), and Lepidoptera (4%) (Fig. 5). Terrestrial insects were found in 6% of guts and comprised 5% of all insect taxa identified. Sediment and detritus, perhaps incidentally ingested with other food items, were found in 13% of all Texas Shiners examined.


Populations of Texas Shiners were temporally stable or increasing in six streams or stream reaches (Bonner et al., 2005; Runyan, 2007; Perkin et al, 2010; Kollaus et al, 2015) with abundances categorized as occasional (7 to 22% in relative abundances) to frequent (30 to 37%) in 10 other streams or stream reaches among five drainages (Colorado River, Guadalupe River, San Antonio River, Nueces River, Pecos River, and Rio Grande). Texas Shiners are not reported recently in three streams or stream reaches. Lack of recent collection in the San Gabriel River (Brazos River drainage) might be attributed to extirpation events or incorrect listing of the Brazos River drainage as part of Texas Shiner's range. Historical occurrences of Texas Shiners in the Brazos River drainage are under review by others (Hendrickson and Cohen, pers. comm.). Lack of recent collection of Texas Shiners and other native fishes in urbanized Barton Creek (Colorado River drainage) is associated with instream and downstream dams and nonnative fishes (Labay et al., 2011). However, other spring-associated fishes (e.g., native Etheostoma lepidum and nonnative Astyanax mexicanus) persist in Barton Creek. Texas Shiners were reported in the upper San Antonio River, another urbanized stream reach, as recent as 2000 (Edwards et al, 2001), but specimens were not taken in 2012 to 2013 (Craig and Bonner, in review). Upper San Antonio River has long history of water quality and water quantity concerns, along with nonnative species introductions. Despite two possible extirpation events in urban streams and possibly a third in a Brazos River drainage, populations of Texas Shiner temporally persist with occasional and frequent abundances among multiple and independent streams, stream reaches, and drainages. Therefore, we conclude the conservation status of the Texas Shiner is currently secure.

Predictions of a protracted reproductive season (February to October, 9 mo) and a short life span were supported. In addition female Texas Shiners produce multiple cohorts of oocytes, suggesting multiple spawning events within a season. The 9 mo reproductive season for Texas Shiners in the Blanco River is considered protracted in comparison to latitudinal trends (5.5 mo; Gotelli and Pyron, 1991) and to its closest phylogenetic relatives Rio Grande Shiner (Sublette et al, 1990, Hoagstrom and Brooks, 2005), Emerald Shiner (Calendar, 1969) and Sharpnose Shiner (Durham, 2007), whose reproductive seasons range from 2 to 3 mo. A protracted reproductive season of 9 mo is similar to other species associated with spring complexes of the Edwards Plateau, such as 10 mo for Ironcolor Shiner Notropis chalybaeus (Perkin et al., 2012), 12 mo for Largespring Gambusia Gambusia geiseri (Hubbs, 1998), 12 for Leon Springs Pupfish Cyprinodon bovinus (Kennedy, 1977); and 11 to 12 mo for Fountain Darter Etheostoma fonticola (Schenck and Whiteside, 1977; Nichols, 2015). Protracted reproductive seasons among a phylogenetically diverse community of fishes are attributed to loss of terminating spawning cues associated with stenothermal water temperatures of spring systems (Hubbs, 1985). Whether protracted reproductive seasons are physiological responses or selected adaptions to spring environments is unknown; nevertheless, reproductive efforts among spring-associated fishes are explicitly linked to the spring environments. Texas Shiners have multiple spawning events and a short life span similar to that of other spring-associated fish (Perkin et al., 2012; Nichols, 2015) and fishes outside of spring complexes in more variable environments (Heins and Rabito, 1986; Durham, 2007). Durham (2007) suggests multiple clutches was a type of "bet-hedging" used by fishes in variable environments to give the best chance at passing on genes. However, Texas Shiner and other fishes found in stable environments, also produce multiple clutches within a spawning season. Future studies are needed to confirm if multiple clutch spawning is a basal ancestral trait or analogously derived under different environmental conditions.

Our prediction on Texas Shiner's feeding strategy was supported. Food habits of Texas Shiners consist primarily of invertebrates and are similar to that of Sharpnose Shiner (Marks et al., 2001), although Texas Shiners more frequently consumed algae (61%) than Sharpnose Shiners (7%; labeled as plant material) and Texas Shiners less frequently consumed detritus, sand, and silt (13%) than Sharpnose Shiners (29% abundance by weight; Marks et al., 2001). Greater algae consumption by the Texas Shiner could be contributed to the Blanco River being less turbid (2.9 NTU; Bean et al., 2007) than the Brazos River (22 to 262 NTU; Ostrand and Wilde, 2002). Elevated turbidity restricts growth of algae (Wang, 1974); therefore, algae availability in Blanco River is likely greater than the Brazos River. Consumption of detritus, sand, and silt in both species could be incidental (Wilde et al., 2001). Alternatively, infrequent consumption of low nutrient food items (i.e., detritus, sand, and silt) by Texas Shiner could also be attributed to greater prey discrimination. Energy devoted to eyes and the neural processing of visual information are greater at lower turbidity levels than greater turbidity levels (Huber and Rylander, 1992; Huber et al., 1997; Kotrschal et al., 1998; Remmington, 2008) with some exceptions (Dugas and Franssen, 2012). Eyes are larger in Texas Shiner than Emerald Shiner, Rio Grande Shiner, and Sharpnose Shiner (Hubbs et al., 2008). Associated with larger eyes, Texas Shiners have a greater mean optic lobe width to total length percentage (3.2%) than Emerald Shiner (2.5%) and a greater mean optic lobe length to total length percentage (4.1%) than Emerald Shiner (3.3%) (Huber and Rylander, 1992; Rio Grande Shiner and Sharpnose Shiner were not quantified). As such greater visual acuity (e.g., greater eye size, larger optic lobes) and related successful feeding could be an adaptation to the commonly clear waters of spring complexes and another explicit link, along with protracted reproductive seasons, between spring-associated fishes and spring environments. However, morphometry of other spring fishes compared to their nonspring associated sister taxa are not reported at this time in order to assess ubiquity of vision acuity.

Although exact mechanisms on why spring-associated fishes do not frequently live outside of spring complexes are still unknown, current literature suggests spring-associated fishes, like the Texas Shiner, are dependent on spring flows. The Edwards Plateau region is rapidly increasing in population (Kollaus and Bonner, 2015). Increases in impervious cover and groundwater extraction, due to urbanization, have contributed to cessation of flows in small springs and decreased base flows in large springs within the Edwards Plateau (Zektser et al., 2005, Sung and Li, 2010), and over-extraction of spring water can contribute to declines in spring fishes within the Edwards Plateau (Winemiller and Anderson, 1997, Craig et al., 2016. Extirpations of Texas Shiners in its range are likely caused by habitat degradation and are coupled with losses of other spring associated taxa (Labay et al., 2011; Craig and Bonner, in review). Although we consider current populations as stable, future conservation of Texas Shiner, and other spring fishes of the Edwards Plateau, will coincide with the quantity and quality of spring flow at spring complexes that it inhabits. Therefore, management of spring flows should consider habitat requirements of spring-associated species.

Acknowledgment.--We thank a large number of Texas State University undergraduate and graduate students for their assistance with field collections and laboratory analyses.


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Department of Biology, Texas State University at San Marcos, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, 78666

BRADLEY M. LITTRELL BIO-WEST, Inc. 1812 Central Commerce Court, Round Rock, Texas, 78664


Department of Biology, Texas State University at San Marcos, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, 78666

(1) Corresponding author: e-mail:

Caption: FIG. 1.--Map of N. amabilis range (light gray) and study sites within the Blanco River drainage. Range comprised of confirmed museum vouchers within a USGS Hydrological Unit (HUC) level-8 (asterisks denote sites of monthly diet and reproduction collections)

Caption: FIG. 2.--Monthly mean total length ([+ or -]SD) for age-0, age-1, age-2 N. amabilis collected from the Blanco River, Texas from October 2003-July 2005

Caption: FIG. 3.--Average female gonadosomatic index (GSI) values for N. amabilis collected from the Blanco River, Texas from October 2003 to September 2004

Caption: FIG. 4.--Oocyte diameter frequency of occurrence (%) distributions (n = 100 from individual N. amabilis females with the greatest gonadosomatic index collected each month from October 2003 to September 2004 from the Blanco River, Texas

Caption: FIG. 5.--Mean percent by number of various aquatic invertebrates identified from alimentary tracts of 36 N. amabilis collected from the Blanco River, Texas from October 2003 through July 2005
TABLE 1.--Historical occurrences and relative abundances for N.
amabilis with historical population changes within its range

                                        Date of first   abundances
Drainage      Stream or reach           collection      (%)

Brazos        San Gabriel River         1963            0
Colorado      North Llano River         1931            37.4
              South Llano River         1955            11.7
              Llano River               1976            3.7
              Pedernales River          1951            12.5
              Live Oak Creek            1998            0.3
              Barton Creek              1884            0
Guadalupe     Cypress Creek             1952            21.8
              Blanco River              1965            14.3
              Upper San Marcos River    1938            7.7
              Lower San Marcos River    1882-1891       7.8
              Comal River               1882-1891       6.6
              Upper Guadalupe River     1938            10.48
              Lower Guadalupe River     1952            7.39
San Antonio   Upper San Antonio River   1891            0
              Lower San Antonio River   1960            0.02
Nueces        Upper Nueces              1851            31
Pecos         Indepedence Creek         1963            30.4
              Pecos River               1853-1858       6.7
Rio Grande    Devils River              1851-1854       17.8
              Pinto Creek               1938            16.9
              Rio Grande--Del Rio to    1954            3.65
              San Ygnacio

                                        Date of relative
                                        abundance          Abundance
Drainage      Stream or reach           estimate           scale

Brazos        San Gabriel River         2010
Colorado      North Llano River         2012               Frequent
              South Llano River         2012               Occasional
              Llano River               2012               Rare
              Pedernales River          2007               Occasional
              Live Oak Creek            2007               Rare
              Barton Creek              2011
Guadalupe     Cypress Creek             2007               Occasional
              Blanco River              2007               Occasional
              Upper San Marcos River    2015               Occasional
              Lower San Marcos River    2010               Occasional
              Comal River               2015               Occasional
              Upper Guadalupe River     2011               Occasional
              Lower Guadalupe River     2011               Occasional
San Antonio   Upper San Antonio River   2014
              Lower San Antonio River   2006               Rare
Nueces        Upper Nueces              2015               Frequent
Pecos         Indepedence Creek         2005               Frequent
              Pecos River               2004               Occasional
Rio Grande    Devils River              2012               Occasional
              Pinto Creek               2004               Occasional
              Rio Grande--Del Rio to    1990               Rare
              San Ygnacio

Drainage      Stream or reach           Status

Brazos        San Gabriel River         Possibly extirpated
Colorado      North Llano River
              South Llano River
              Llano River
              Pedernales River
              Live Oak Creek
              Barton Creek              Possibly extirpated
Guadalupe     Cypress Creek
              Blanco River
              Upper San Marcos River    Stable
              Lower San Marcos River    Increasing
              Comal River
              Upper Guadalupe River     Increasing
              Lower Guadalupe River     Increasing
San Antonio   Upper San Antonio River   Possibly extirpated
              Lower San Antonio River   Stable
Nueces        Upper Nueces
Pecos         Indepedence Creek         Stable
              Pecos River
Rio Grande    Devils River
              Pinto Creek
              Rio Grande--Del Rio to
              San Ygnacio

Drainage      Stream or reach           Citation

Brazos        San Gabriel River         Labay, 2010
Colorado      North Llano River         Curtis, 2012
              South Llano River         Curtis, 2012
              Llano River               Curtis, 2012
              Pedernales River          Shattuck, 2010
              Live Oak Creek            Shattuck, 2010
              Barton Creek              Labay et al., 2011
Guadalupe     Cypress Creek             Bean et al., 2007
              Blanco River              Bean et al., 2007
              Upper San Marcos River    Kollaus et al., 2015
              Lower San Marcos River    Perkin and Bonner, 2011
              Comal River               THB, unpubl.
              Upper Guadalupe River     Perkin and Bonner, 2011
              Lower Guadalupe River     Perkin and Bonner, 2011
San Antonio   Upper San Antonio River   Craig et al., in review
              Lower San Antonio River   Runyan, 2007
Nueces        Upper Nueces              CAC and THB, unpubl.
Pecos         Indepedence Creek         Bonner et al., 2005
              Pecos River               Cheek and Taylor, 2015
Rio Grande    Devils River              Kollaus and Bonner, 2012
              Pinto Creek               Garrett et al., 2004
              Rio Grande--Del Rio to    Platan la, 1990
              San Ygnacio
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Article Details
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Author:Craig, Cody A.; Littrell, Bradley M.; Bonner, Timothy H.
Publication:The American Midland Naturalist
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Apr 1, 2017
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