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Bayou Bartholomew & Biodiversity

Bayou-Diversity (9 February 2020) Anxiously they lay in wait - Fox, Sun Flower, Persia, Sydonia, Red Chief, Lucy Robinson, Young America, W.W. Farmer, Kate Dale - their captains eyeing the slowly rising waters of the Ouachita. During the last half of the nineteenth century, these steamboats and others would gather at the mouth of Bayou Bartholomew just above Sterlington usually in late November or early December. When winter rains raised water levels high enough for navigation, the normally quiet bayou seethed with activity as the steamboats churned its waters in a dash to serve the wealthy cotton planters and small communities along its shores. In varying degrees the activity continued until May or June when the bayou again receded to a winding, crystalline stream often no more than knee deep.

The boat captains, deck hands, and passengers never realized that as they traveled Bayou Bartholomew they passed over the most biologically diverse area in terms of fish species in the state of Louisiana. Even today few people know that researchers have found more kinds of fish in Bayou Bartholomew than any other body of water in the state. At least 101 species are known to inhabit the bayou. They range from common gamefish such as bass and bluegills to less celebrated but intriguing crystal and stargazing darters, pugnose minnows, and redfin shiners.

When the aquatic biodiversity of Bayou Bartholomew is compared with that of other area streams such as Bayou Lafourche, Bayou Macon, and the Tensas River, extreme differences are noted. Bayou Bartholomew has twice the species as the others. The reason lies partially in the fact that unlike the others, Bayou Bartholomew has never been significantly channelized or dredged. Habitats such as gravel beds and riffle areas necessary in the life cycle of many fish remain intact. Water quality is relatively good. Diversity in the other bayous has gone the way of the steamboats. (Adapted from Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country; LSU Press)


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