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Demographics and run timing of adult Lost River (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose (Chasmistes brevirostris) suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, 2011

September 3, 2012

Executive Summary

Data from a long-term capture-recapture program were used to assess the status and dynamics of populations of two long-lived, federally endangered catostomids in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon. Lost River suckers (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose suckers (Chasmistes brevirostris) have been captured and tagged with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags during their spawning migrations in each year since 1995. In addition, beginning in 2005, individuals that had been previously PIT-tagged were re-encountered on remote underwater antennas deployed throughout sucker spawning areas. Captures and remote encounters during spring 2011 were used to describe the spawning migrations in that year and also were incorporated into capture-recapture analyses of population dynamics.

Cormack-Jolly-Seber (CJS) open population capture-recapture models were used to estimate annual survival probabilities, and a reverse-time analog of the CJS model was used to estimate recruitment of new individuals into the spawning populations. In addition, data on the size composition of captured fish was examined to provide corroborating evidence of recruitment. Survival and recruitment estimates were used to derive estimates of changes in population size over time and to determine the status of the populations in 2010. Separate analyses were conducted for each species and also for each subpopulation of Lost River suckers (LRS). One subpopulation of LRS migrates into tributaries to spawn, similar to shortnose suckers (SNS), whereas the other subpopulation spawns at upwelling areas along the eastern shoreline of the lake.

In 2011, we captured, tagged, and released 806 LRS at four lakeshore spawning areas and recaptured an additional 1,006 individuals that had been tagged in previous years. Across all four areas, the remote antennas detected 6,547 individual LRS during the spawning season. Spawning activity peaked in April and most individuals were encountered at Sucker Springs and Cinder Flats. In the Williamson River, we captured, tagged, and released 2,742 LRS and 123 SNS, and recaptured 376 LRS and 58 SNS that had been tagged in previous years. Remote PIT tag antennas in the traps at the weir on the Williamson River and remote antenna systems that spanned the river at four different locations on the Williamson and Sprague Rivers detected a total of 16,494 LRS and 5,450 SNS. Most LRS passed upstream between mid-April and mid-May when water temperatures were rising and near or greater than 10 °C. In contrast, the largest peaks in upstream passage of SNS occurred in early and mid-May when water temperatures were rising and near or greater than 12 °C. Finally, an additional 875 LRS and 1,600 SNS were captured in trammel net sampling at pre-spawn staging areas in the northeastern portion of the lake. Of these, 191of the LRS and 571 of the SNS had been PIT-tagged in previous years. For LRS, encounter histories showed that more than 90 percent of the fish captured at the staging areas were members of the subpopulation that spawns in the tributaries.

Capture-recapture analyses for the LRS subpopulation that spawns at the shoreline areas included encounter histories for more than 10,500 individuals, and analyses for the subpopulation that spawns in the tributaries included more than 22,000 encounter histories. With a few exceptions, the survival of males and females in both subpopulations was high (greater than 0.9) between 1999 and 2009. Notably lower survival occurred for both sexes from the tributaries in 2000, for both sexes from the shoreline areas in 2002, and for males from the tributaries in 2006. Between 2001 and 2010, the abundance of males in the lakeshore spawning subpopulation decreased by 50–60 percent and the abundance of females decreased by 29–44 percent. Capture-recapture models suggested that the abundance of the river spawning subpopulation of LRS has increased substantially since 2006. The increase over this period was largely due to large estimated recruitment events in 2003, 2006, and 2008. We know that the estimate in 2006 is substantially biased in favor of recruitment due to a sampling issue. We are skeptical of the magnitude of recruitment indicated by the 2003 and 2008 estimates as well because very few small individuals that would indicate the presence of new recruits were captured in those years. If we assume that little or no recruitment has occurred, the abundance of both sexes in the river spawning subpopulation decreased by more than 40 percent between 2002 and 2010.

Capture-recapture analyses for SNS included encounter histories for more than 15,500 individuals. The majority of annual survival estimates between 2001 and 2009 were high (greater than 0.8), but SNS did experience more years of low survival than either LRS subpopulation. The survival of both sexes was particularly low in both 2001 and 2004, and male survival also was somewhat low in 2002 and 2006. Capture-recapture models and size composition data indicated that recruitment of new individuals into the SNS spawning population was trivial in nearly all years between 2001 and 2009. As a result, the abundance of males decreased by 64–82 percent and the abundance of females decreased by 62–76 percent between 2001 and 2010.

Despite relatively high survival in most years, both species have experienced substantial declines in the abundance of spawning fish because losses from mortality have not been balanced by recruitment of new individuals. Although capture-recapture data indicate substantial recruitment of new individuals into the adult spawning populations for SNS and river spawning LRS in some years, size data do not corroborate these estimates. In fact, fork length data indicate that all populations are largely comprised of fish that were present in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As a result, the status of the endangered sucker populations in Upper Klamath Lake remains worrisome, and the situation is most dire for shortnose suckers. Future investigations should explore the connections between sucker recruitment and survival and various environmental factors, such as water quality and disease. Our monitoring program provides a robust platform for estimating vital population parameters, evaluating the status of the populations, and assessing the effectiveness of conservation and recovery efforts.

Publication Year 2012
Title Demographics and run timing of adult Lost River (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose (Chasmistes brevirostris) suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, 2011
DOI 10.3133/ofr20121193
Authors David A. Hewitt, Eric C. Janney, Brian S. Hayes, Alta C. Harris
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2012-1193
Index ID ofr20121193
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center