This species can be found in the upper (Appalachian) portions of the Black Warrior River drainage, Alabama, USA (Bart et al. 1997). Populations are known to occur in the Sipsey Fork and Brushy Creek, Winston County; Mulberry Fork, Blackwater Creek, and Lost Creek in Walker County; North River and Yellow Creek, Tuscaloosa County; and Locust Fork and Blackburn Fork in Blount County (Bailey 2005). This species can be expected to potentially inhabit the same streams as the threatened flattened musk turtle (Sternotherus depressus), which is also restricted to permanent streams above the fall line in the Black Warrior River basin (Mount 1975). More than 120 sites have been sampled for waterdogs since 1990 (Guyer 1997), and the species has been reported from only ten sites (equal to an eight per cent success rate) in four counties, despite surveys in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, and 1998 (Bailey 1995; Guyer 1997, 1998). Sites surveyed included all stream localities within the range of the species that approached or intersected roads and had appropriate habitat. Guyer (1997) did a statistical analysis of all waterdog field survey data. He concluded that waterdogs were unlikely to have been missed if they were present, especially at sites visited more than once. The data indicated that 200 additional surveys would be needed to discover a single new locality for the species.
Habitat and Ecology
It can be found in medium to large streams that have logs, submerged ledges, rocks, and other hiding places on the bottom (Ashton and Peavy 1986). Their historical range is thought to have included streams 10m wide or greater, with moderate flows and alternating pools and rapids (Ashton and Peavy 1986; Bailey 1992). Semi-permanent leaf beds (where they exist) are likely to be visited frequently (Ashton and Peavy 1986). Guyer (1997) analysed habitat to distinguish sites with waterdogs from those lacking the species. He found waterdogs to be associated with: clay substrates lacking silt, wide and/or shallow stream morphology; increased snail and Desmognathus (dusky salamander) abundance; and decreased Corbicula (Asiatic mussel) occurrence. Eggs are attached to the underside of objects in water.
It is rare with sporadic occurrences within the presumed geographic range (Guyer 1997). A 1990-1992 survey found only a few individuals in four localities. Collections included six adults and one larva in the Sipsey Fork, one adult in Lost Creek, one larva in North River, and one sub-adult in Yellow Creek (Bailey 1992). During a 1996-1997 survey a total of 18 individuals were collected from Sipsey Fork and 11 individuals from Brushy Creek (Guyer 1997). Even though it was extensively surveyed from 1990-1997, numbers collected are too low to determine population trends. Bailey (1992) stated that habitat degradation might have resulted in reductions or extirpations over much of the historical range.
Water quality degradation due to industrial, mining, agricultural, and urban pollution are probably the primary reasons for the extirpation of this species over much of its historic range in the upper Black Warrior River system. The remaining Black Warrior waterdog populations are isolated from each other by unsuitable habitat created by impoundments, pollution, or other factors. The fragmentation of habitat renders populations vulnerable to catastrophic events such as flood, drought, or chemical spills. In addition, if stream quality improves within areas of the basin, impoundments and polluted reaches will act as barriers to the re-establishment of waterdog populations. Direct take for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes are not currently considered to be a threat. Disease and predation are not known to be factors in the decline. This information is based on a 1999 "Candidate and Listing Priority Assignment Form" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bailey (1995).
The state of Alabama provides no protection for the species (J. Godwin, Alabama Natural Heritage Program pers. comm. 1999). The Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 and the Clean Water Act of 1972 have been ineffective in preventing the continued decline of species in the Black Warrior basin (Dodd, Enge and Stuart 1986; Mettee et al. 1989; Hartfield 1990; Bailey and Guyer 1998; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1998).
Red List Status
Listed as Endangered because its Area of Occupancy is probably less than 500km2, its distribution is severely fragmented, and there is continuing decline in the extent and quality of its forest habitat in Alabama.
Bart et al. (1997) determined that the name Necturus alabamensis applies only to the waterdog in the upper Black Warrior River drainage. For years, the name had been mistakenly applied to a more common species of waterdog that occurs in the coastal plain. Further taxonomic revisions involving this species are likely (Petranka 1998). See Bart et al. (1997) for an account of the nomenclatural history of this and related species.
Geoffrey Hammerson, Mark Bailey 2004. Necturus alabamensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T59430A11940680. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2004.RLTS.T59430A11940680.en