Historically, populations of Lost River suckers (Deltistes luxatus) of the Upper Klamath Basin were so numerous that they were commercially harvested; however, declining numbers throughout the 20th century led to the listing of the species under the United States Endangered Species Act in 1988. Habitat destruction, poor water quality, competition with (and predation by) nonnative species, especially fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) and yellow perch (Perca flavescens), are hypothesized as primary causes of population decline (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013). Age data indicate that almost all adult suckers presently in Upper Klamath Lake spawning populations were hatched in the early 1990s. While entrainment of young fish (especially larvae) may contribute, catch-at-length and age data suggest consistently high mortality during the first year of life may be preventing the recruitment of young adults. The specific causes of juvenile sucker mortality are unknown; however, the absence of juvenile suckers in trap net catches coincides with degraded water quality associated with the decay of cyanobacteria blooms and exposure to toxic microcystin produced by Microcystis cyanobacteria.
Water-quality data collected in Upper Klamath Lake from 2011 to 2016 suggest that microcystin concentrations in Upper Klamath Lake reached potentially lethal levels based on literature findings from studies on a variety of fish species. We conducted a laboratory feeding trial to determine if microcystin toxicity could potentially be a direct cause of juvenile Lost River sucker mortality. We examined the effects of environmentally relevant doses of microcystin on the survival and health of hatchery-reared juvenile Lost River suckers. Results from this laboratory study suggest that Lost River suckers are very tolerant of the microcystin-LR toxin. Histopathological analysis revealed no evidence of tissue changes associated with microcystin-LR exposure. Although no direct effects of microcystin-LR exposure were detected, suckers could potentially be negatively affected through added energy expenditures and stress associated with excretion of microcystin. Furthermore, microcystin may adversely affect other organisms in Upper Klamath Lake that could alter food availability or habitat of the suckers.
- Digital Object Identifier: 10.3133/ofr20191079
- Source: USGS Publications Warehouse (indexId: ofr20191079)