Lake Waccamaw formed approximately 30,000 years ago, and what sets this lake apart from other lakes in our state are the high number of endemic species found in its waters. Endemic species are species that are only found in a specific locality and Lake Waccamaw is home to at least three endemic species of fish, as well as several endemic freshwater molluscs including two species of snail. In contrast, the majority of lakes in North Carolina have fish and invertebrate species that range well beyond our state border.
Our team was looking for the endemic darter Etheostoma perlongum, and it’s closest living relative Etheostoma olmstedi, which lives just below the lake dam in the Waccamaw River. It was a hard day of fieldwork, but we were able to find some fish that will be taken back to Yale University for genetic analyses with the aim of understanding how the Waccamaw darter and closely related species have evolved. This work will shed insights into not only how species originate, but also for addressing fundamental questions of how we define the term “species”. With the advent of genomic data, many widespread species have been dicovered to actually be comprised of several cryptic species, or species that possess little morphological variation yet represent unique lineages. Work on darters at Yale has been on the forefront of this research for North American freshwater fishes, and it will be exciting to find out more about the darters in this region of our state as this project progresses. Stay tuned!