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Released August 29, 2003


HATTIESBURG - The University of Southern Mississippi's College of Science and Technology will hold its fifth Bennett Symposium on the Hattiesburg campus Sept. 25-26. The theme of the two-day symposium is "Headwaters to the Sea: Evolution and Conservation of Fish Assemblages in Large Rivers."

Open to the public and free, the symposium will explore conservation issues among fish assemblages mainly in North America.

There are several objectives of the symposium, said Dr. Stephen Ross, distinguished professor in the sciences and curator of fishes at the Southern Miss Museum of Ichthyology.

"We want to increase the understandings of how fish assemblages are formed and how habitat helps to structure assemblages both through natural and man-made changes," he said. "Through that we can use this information to be more effective in conserving native fish diversity."

Experts from the field will give presentations on a variety of issues, including topics of interest to local conservationists. Dr. Henry L. Bart, director and curator of fishes at the Tulane Museum of Natural History, will present the topic "Heritage Lost: Declining Fish Diversity in the Pearl River System."

Ross and Dr. Mark Peterson, professor in the Department of Coastal Sciences at Southern Miss, will lead a presentation on the dynamic habitat components of the Pascagoula River estuary. The Pascagoula River Basin is the largest unimpeded major river system in the lower 48 states.

Unlike other river systems that researchers will highlight in the symposium, like the Colorado and the Pearl, the Pascagoula has suffered relatively few adverse effects from man-made alterations. Rivers and their fish populations can be negatively affected by dams and other planned impediments, as well as by run-off from surrounding construction.

"Rain water from parking lots mixes with oils from the cars, which runs off into rivers," Ross said. "Fertilizers from lawns are another problem. Unfortunately, many of our streams are not in good shape; their flow characteristics have been altered and many are still suffering from the lingering effects of pollution."

In contrast to the Pascagoula River, which has about 114 different species of freshwater fish, the Colorado River has been seriously depleted of its fish populations because of the numerous man-made alterations like the Hoover Dam. Ross said a "fair amount of time" will be given to discussion of this phenomenon.

"The Colorado provides power to the Southwest, but it's a river that doesn't even reach the sea anymore," he said. "Contrasting this highly altered river is the Pascagoula, which has almost no large dams in its main channel."

The Bennett Symposium is made possible by a rotating, endowed professorship in the College of Science and Technology. The Bennett Distinguished Professorship in the Sciences, which Ross has held the past two years, was established through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. T.W. Bennett and is named after their son, T.W. (Buddy) Bennett Jr.

Bennett Jr. graduated from Southern Miss in 1967 with an abiding love for the sciences, particularly biology and chemistry. While serving with distinction in the Vietnam conflict, Bennett Jr.'s plane crashed and he's since been listed "missing in action." The endowment was established in his honor.

Presentations begin on Sept. 25 at 8:30 a.m. in the Polymer Science Auditorium. For more information, contact Dr. Ross by phone at (601) 266-4928 or by e-mail at


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM