Its gestation took 35 years, but the arrival is worth the wait. “Inland Fishes of the Greater Southwest: Chronicle of a Vanishing Biota,” by the late W. L. Minckley and Paul C. Marsh, replaces and bolsters Minckley’s “Fishes of Arizona,” published by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in 1973.
This University of Arizona Press offering comes with exemplary production values. Printed on coated paper with an eye-catching cover photo of a wild humpback chub, its 426 pages contain spectacularly crisp black-and-white photos; clear, concise maps; and easy-to-read tables. It’s a must-have reference for biologists, resource managers and serious fish enthusiasts.
One word of caution: This hefty book is not a field guide. Rather, it is a compendium of all that is known about fishes in the “greater Southwest,” defined as those waters leading into the lower Colorado River basin, including a number of Mexican drainages that empty into the Gulf of California. A few fishes found along the gulf’s coast are included as well.
The text consists of four chapters, starting with an Introduction, which admits a bias toward native species and concludes provocatively that their vanishing status is due to the importation and introduction of nonnative fishes. The next chapter discusses the region’s long-term isolation and the origins and types of waters present. I found the human history discussions particularly fascinating, especially the early fishing techniques of Native Americans and the impacts wrought by engineers who created the Salton Sea and tamed the Colorado River with reservoirs. These are followed by a status report on the present condition of our aquatic resources and a comparison of strategies that might save the region’s native fishes without impacting sport fishing.
Chapter 4, “Fishes of the Region,” constitutes the heart of the book. It commences with a lesson in fish biology and a key to fish species (facilitated by a serviceable glossary). Individual species accounts are arranged by family and categorized as to native and nonnative fishes.
The 65 native forms, such as the Apache and Gila trouts, are accompanied by distribution maps showing historical and present populations. A carefully vetted text gives each fish’s physical description, status, feeding behavior and spawning habits. Every fish is illustrated by a nicely prepared black-and-white drawing or photo. Conservation problems due to hybridization and predation by nonnative fishes are emphasized.
Game fishes are included, but without range maps. The text describes the transplant history, preferred habitats and distributions of these and other nonnative fishes. Each one is illustrated by a black-and-white line drawing, while the text provides maximum lengths, food habits, temperature requirements and a description of the species’ impacts on other fishes.
I found the tables listing the chronology of reservoirs built in the Colorado River system and estimating their evaporation rates particularly useful, along with the extensive 73-page bibliography. Laypersons benefit from a metric conversion table and a checklist that includes both common and scientific names of the fishes. An especially attractive feature, lacking in the earlier book, is the 16 pages of color illustrations by Randy Babb. These depict native fishes in breeding colors and are accompanied by localized English and Spanish common names. Indices are provided for both subjects and species.
–David E. Brown
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