Hidden Rivers: The Freshwater Biodiversity of the Southern Appalachia

Story and Photography by David Herasimtschuk

Bright orange Tennessee shiners surround a stoneroller on a chub nest in the West Fork of the Pigeon River in Smoky Mountain National Park. Both species take advantage of nests built by chubs, and use them to deposit their eggs in. © David Herasimtschuk

Bright orange Tennessee shiners surround a stoneroller on a chub nest in the West Fork of the Pigeon River in Smoky Mountain National Park. Both species take advantage of nests built by chubs, and use them to deposit their eggs in. © David Herasimtschuk

 

I awkwardly clamber up the cobble and bedrock of a swift Southern Appalachian River. My senses and thoughts are continually captivated by the life that call these forests home. Small slimy salamanders scurry along the bank as the heavy buzz of cicadas flood the sweet Southern air, all a pleasant reminder of the unique diversity that is supported by these ecosystems. However, to truly understand how special Southern Appalachia is you have to look below the water’s surface.

As I hike up river, occasionally looking for glimpses of what might be lurking in the small rapids and pools, all I see from above are fleeting dark shadows that seem to blend in with the patterns of the water. From the surface, these rivers can appear as lifeless bands of bedrock and boulders, as if that’s where the forest’s life stops. But looks can be deceiving, and as every photographer knows, perspective is everything. Hidden beneath the surface of Southern Appalachia’s rivers and streams lives one of the greatest assemblages of freshwater life found anywhere on this planet. Continue reading