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Assessing causes of mortality for endangered juvenile Lost River suckers (Deltistes luxatus) in mesocosms in Upper Klamath Lake, south-central Oregon, 2016

February 20, 2019

Executive Summary

The recovery of endangered Lost River suckers (Deltistes luxatus) in Upper Klamath Lake, south-central Oregon, has been impeded because juveniles are not recruiting into adult spawning populations. Adult sucker populations spawn each spring but mortality of age-0 suckers during their first summer is excessively high, and recruitment of juveniles into adult populations does not occur in most years. The last significant year class to join spawning aggregations was hatched in 1991. Capture rates for age-0 Lost River suckers decrease so substantially each summer that it is thought that mortality is nearly 100 percent within the first year of life each year. Causes of mortality are not understood but poor water quality, parasites, disease, predation, and non-native species are suspected to contribute to mortality. Upper Klamath Lake is hypereutrophic and summer water-quality conditions have large diurnal and seasonal fluctuations. Photosynthesis of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, the most abundant cyanobacterium in Upper Klamath Lake, is responsible for large fluctuations in dissolved-oxygen (DO) concentrations and pH.

We introduced hatchery-raised, passive integrated transponder-tagged juvenile Lost River suckers into large mesocosms located at Fish Banks, Mid North, and Rattlesnake Point in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, to assess sucker mortality relative to water-quality conditions. We identified the date of death for each sucker by assessing movement patterns among vertically stratified antennas. We modeled daily mortality using known fate models relative to water-quality conditions measured by sondes. Histopathology was used to understand causes of eminent mortality for moribund suckers.

Fish mortality, growth, health, and movement patterns varied among locations, but it was unclear whether this variation was due to water-quality or other factors. Seasonal mortality was 58.8 percent at Fish Banks, 27.4 percent at Mid North, and 11.5 percent at Rattlesnake Point. Growth over the 109-day study period was lowest at Fish Banks (34.5 ±10.0 millimeters [mm] standard length (SL); 18.6 ±7.7 grams [g]), intermediate at Mid North (57.5 ±13.6 mm SL; 40.1 ±15.4 g), and greatest at Rattlesnake Point (78.4 ±13.0 mm SL; 72.5 ±18.7 g). Our ability to assess causes of juvenile sucker mortality in mesocosms using our modelling approach was limited by low daily mortality. Zero to 3 mortalities occurred per day, except on July 30 at Fish Banks when 7 mortalities occurred. Relative to any other measured and tested water-quality condition, mortality was more likely to occur on days with large fluctuations in oxygen percent saturation. When we assessed the fit of the most parsimonious model, performance was poor, which suggested that other factors were contributing to mortality. Our ability to assess the relationship between seasonal patterns in water quality and fish mortality were limited by the absence of substantial differences in water quality among sites, inconsistency in the depth at which measurements were collected, and no clear pattern in conditions leading up to and during mortality events. Except for DO at Rattlesnake Point and diel temperature variations at Fish Banks, seasonally summarized water-quality factors were similar among sites. The locations of water-quality monitors within the water column likely explain the differences in DO at Rattlesnake Point and temperature variation at Fish Banks. Furthermore, DO concentrations and other water-quality factors occurring during and prior to mortality events were inconsistent.

Microscopic assessments indicated severe gill hyperplasia, fusion of the secondary lamellae, and severe Ichthyobodo sp. infestations on the gills of most moribund suckers. Liver glycogen was usually depleted in suckers with severe Ichthyobodo sp. infestations. Ichthyobodo sp. infestations probably were the immediate cause of death and probably originated from the Klamath Tribes Fish Research Facility, although this parasite also is present in Upper Klamath Lake and severe water-quality conditions may have contributed to morbidity. As suckers in the mesocosms died, they were replaced with suckers from the Fish Research Facility that likely were heavily parasitized with Ichthyobodo sp. Therefore, it is possible that the gradient in mortality rate among sites was owing to site-varying differences in inadvertent increases in introduced parasite loads.

Publication Year 2019
Title Assessing causes of mortality for endangered juvenile Lost River suckers (Deltistes luxatus) in mesocosms in Upper Klamath Lake, south-central Oregon, 2016
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191006
Authors Danielle M. Hereford, Carla M. Conway, Summer M. Burdick, Diane G. Elliott, Todd M. Perry, Amari Dolan-Caret, Alta C. Harris
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2019-1006
Index ID ofr20191006
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center