EDITOR:I have never found public mudslinging to be a productive form of community service, so I will refrain from retaliating in kind to Dr. Hardy’s ad hominem attacks on your editorial page last week. However, his letter does raise a big question: Who should San Marcos city leaders consult for expert advice about the fate of the weir at Cape’s Dam?
When communities turn to scientists for advice about natural resources, we need to keep in mind that no single scientist is omniscient. We all study a few things in great detail, but few of us have intricate knowledge on the complete picture. It is important to call on diverse experts with different perspectives to inform public leaders. Dr. Hardy and I have acquired different knowledge sets regarding biodiversity elements in Texas rivers, and we can both serve the communities’ interest by sharing them with the San Marcos City Council.
While Dr. Hardy’s claim that my science is sloppy is contradicted by my extensive publication record in prestigious scientific journals, it is true that I am the proud Captain of the US Women’s Kayak Polo Team. I felt no need to mention this in an editorial regarding the biology of Cape’s Dam’s fate, because the outcome of the city’s decision on this matter will have no bearing on my kayak polo play. Contrary to Dr. Hardy’s offensive claim, it is my professional concern for native fish species that motivates my interest in Cape’s Dam — not my recreational pursuits.
I study the behavior of poeciliid fish — a diverse group of small fish with well over 180 species, and I have observed and collected these fish in their native habitats from Mexico, Trinidad, Costa Rica and various Texas waterways for over 15 years. In that process, I have acquired knowledge about the particular habitats in which these species thrive, and have recently become distressed by the declining populations of rare and native mosquitofish species (Gambusia sp.) in Texas. Ensuring habitat-friendly environments for all fish (the big and the small) is important and variable flow regimes with bank vegetation are vital for many poeciliid species.
It makes complete sense to me that the San Marcos City Council contracted with Dr. Hardy, an environmental flows specialist with extensive knowledge of the San Marcos River ecology, to project potential repercussions of weir removal at Cape’s Dam. But I hope that the city council will seek additional advice from other scientists with different perspectives. The insight I have to offer is restricted to one slice of the biodiversity pie — the habitat preferences of poeciliid fishes.
Additional useful input might be given by U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists in San Marcos such as Mara Alexander and Catherine Phillips who have published on the different habitat needs of juvenile and adult native Fountain darters. More global perspective on Texas fish can be provided by Dean Hendrickson and Adam Cohen, curators of the Fishes of Texas online database.
The San Marcos City Council is commendably listening to a number of different citizen advocate groups about the fate of the weir, but I hope they also take advantage of the wealth of local scientists that have different perspectives on the biology of the San Marcos River.
MOLLY CUMMINGS, Ph.D.
MOLLY CUMMINGS is a biology associate professor in the University of Texas’ College of Natural Sciences. The San Marcos Mercury welcomes original letters to the editor about issues of public interest. Send letters through our contact page or email them to Editor & Publisher Brad Rollins.
An old mill race runs from Cape’s Dam alongside the eastern edge of Thompson’s Islands before rejoining the river. MERCURY FILE PHOTO by JAMIE MALDONADO. © 2012, All rights reserved.Email | Print