Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Avian predation of juvenile Lost River and Shortnose Suckers in Upper Klamath Lake: An assessment of Sucker assisted rearing program releases during 2018–2020

September 30, 2021

To bolster recruitment in Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed Lost River Suckers (Deltistes luxatus) and Shortnose Suckers (Chasmistes brevirostris) in the Upper Klamath Basin (UKB), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and its partners have implemented the Sucker Assisted Rearing Program (SARP). As part of this program, juvenile suckers were reared in captivity, implanted with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags (n= 8,857), and released into the Upper Klamath Lake or its tributaries during 2018–2020. Previous research suggests that predation by American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), Double-crested Cormorants (Nannopterum auritum), and Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) may negatively influence sucker survival, particularly predation on juvenile suckers. Estimates of predation impacts from past studies, however, represented minimum estimates of sucker mortality because analyses did not account for the proportion of consumed tags that were deposited by birds on their breeding colony where PIT tag recovery efforts took place. To estimate and account for deposition probabilities, we conducted a field study in which we fed pelicans PIT-tagged juvenile suckers (n = 401). We accounted for deposition probabilities of cormorants and terns by using previously published estimates. Sucker PIT tags were recovered from pelican, cormorant, and tern nesting sites in the UKB following each breeding season and a hierarchical Bayesian model was used to estimate predation rates (percentage of available tagged fish consumed) on SARP releases as well as naturally-reared or wild juvenile suckers and adult suckers that were PIT-tagged in Upper Klamath Lake and Clear Lake Reservoir. Pelican deposition probabilities were estimated at 0.47 (95% credible interval = 0.36–0.60), indicating that for every 100 PIT tags consumed, on average, 47 were deposited by pelicans on breeding colonies. Estimates of predation rates that incorporate corrections for deposition on SARP releases ranged annually from 4.4% (95% credible interval = 2.9–6.8%) to 8.8% (6.2–13.3%) during 2018–2020. Results suggest that colonial waterbird predation impacts on SARP releases likely constituted a small, but unknown, component of total mortality for suckers released into the Upper Klamath Lake system. Predation impacts on SARP juvenile suckers and wild juvenile suckers, which were estimated annually at 4.7% (1.0–13.9%) to 14.9% (7.6–29.3%), were consistently higher than those observed on adult suckers, with predation on adult suckers typically less than 4.0% of available fish annually. Future predation studies may consider models that integrate both live and dead detections of PIT-tagged suckers to generate more accurate and precise estimates of survival following release, as well as models that consider environmental factors that influence sucker susceptibility to colonial waterbird predation. Such models would provide a more holistic understanding of the degree to which avian predation limits the survival of ESA-listed suckers in the UKB.

Publication Year 2021
Title Avian predation of juvenile Lost River and Shortnose Suckers in Upper Klamath Lake: An assessment of Sucker assisted rearing program releases during 2018–2020
Authors Allen Evans, Quinn Payton, Nathan V Banet, Bradley M. Cramer, Caylen Kelsey, David A. Hewitt
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Index ID 70225493
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center