Fishes of Texas Project: Government-University Collaboration to Improve Science and Conservation Management
Since 2006 the Fishes of Texas (FoTX) Project at University of Texas Austin (UT) has sought to improve freshwater fish occurrence data for the state of Texas and make it openly accessible to facilitate research and improve aquatic resource management. Seven federal and state sponsors have contributed funding, but 73% of the total $2.7 million has come from US Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grant Program via Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Initially the Project focused on data digitization and compilation of strictly specimen-vouchered data, followed by georeferencing and development of an interactive website/database (http://www.fishesoftexas.org). More recently, non-vouchered citizen science, angler-based, and agency datasets have been added, thereby increasing both geographic and temporal density of records, and a selected subset of data fields for all records is now published to GBIF and iDigBio.
The project’s comprehensive data aggregation (44 contributing collections), digitization, normalization, accessibility and high data quality (based, in part on extensive taxonomic determination verification via specimen examination), enabled significant advances in detection and awareness of statewide faunal trends that led to implementation of diverse management advances. Examples include improved field guides and documentation of species’ ranges, expansions and contractions, community composition shifts, improved species conservation status assessments, and documentation of both long-term expansions of invasive species and new introductions. Relatively new to the Project are statewide aquatic bioassessments - intensive fieldwork planned using tools available in our website that facilitate exploration of geographic and temporal sampling histories and reveal under-sampled areas. Consequently, gaps in knowledge of regional faunas have been steadily decreasing. The website and database are widely used; 90% of presentations on related topics at last year’s statewide fisheries meeting utilized FoTX products.
This now long-term, consistent funding created a productive partnership between UT and TPWD. With the Project’s bioassessments generating specimens, and TPWD’s independent routine fish sampling increasingly depositing specimens, our collection (TNHCi - https://www.gbif.org/dataset/6080b6cc-1c24-41ff-ad7f-0ebe7b56f311) has nearly doubled in size over the last decade. Last year, TPWD’s list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need was updated, with major changes based on the improved knowledge provided by FoTX. TPWD now funds a full-time Assistant Collection Manager position focusing on bioassessments, but also doing basic collection management and supervision of student and volunteer help. Another grant-funded position, a liaison between the collection and TPWD staff, spawned the ongoing statewide Texas Native Fish Conservation Areas program that coordinates funding and actions of diverse stakeholders for watershed-scale conservation. Both externally funded UT positions participate in diverse collections-based research and outreach endeavors for both UT and TPWD. The FoTX website was developed in large part by staff in UT’s science database group in the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) - a collaboration that blossomed into long-term technical support for collection database management and data publication that has since expanded to support all other collections in UT’s Biodiversity Center.