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Guadalupe Bass flow-ecology relationships; with emphasis on the impact of flow on recruitment

January 1, 2019

Guadalupe Bass Micropterus treculii is an economically and ecologically important black bass species endemic to the Edwards Plateau ecoregion and the lower portions of the Colorado River in central Texas. It is considered a fluvial specialist and as such, there are concerns that the increasing demands being placed upon the water resources of central Texas by growing human populations have the potential to negatively impact Guadalupe Bass populations. Therefore, this study assessed the relationship between Guadalupe Bass growth, feeding ecology, and streamflow. Sagittal otoliths were removed from Guadalupe Bass collected from throughout their range during 2015-2017 and used to estimate the age and back-calculate the growth trajectory of each individual. Additionally, young-of-year (YOY) Guadalupe Bass were collected every 10-14 days from two second-order streams, the North Llano River and South Llano River, in the Colorado Basin on the Edwards Plateau. Stomach contents of these individuals were identified and the effect of streamflow on the occurrence of the taxa comprising the stomach contents assessed. 

Guadalupe Bass growth was greater in the Colorado and Guadalupe River basins, independent of stream order, and tended to increase with increasing stream order within a basin. Growth was higher in higher stream orders and during years with stable and lower spring and summer monthly median flows, lower minimum and maximum flows, slower rise and fall rates, and higher baseflows. Growth was not influenced by years with higher monthly median flows in winter. These results would seem to contradict previous research, but more likely represent a fuller picture of how Guadalupe Bass respond to flow conditions. The disagreement between the current study and past studies seem to be attributable, at least in part, to the fact that previous studies were conducted during a period of extensive drought, while the current study was conducted during relatively wet conditions. Taken together with previous studies, the current study suggests that Guadalupe Bass growth is sensitive to flow conditions and is lower in years with flow conditions that fall outside a basin- and stream order-specific optimal range for the species.

A total of 21 unique taxonomic groups were recovered from the stomachs of YOY Guadalupe Bass collected from the North Llano River and South Llano River. Aquatic insects, especially larval mayflies (Ephemeroptera), damselflies (Odanata: Zygoptera), and caddisflies (Trichoptera), were the most frequently encountered taxa. While there was no difference between the two rivers in stomach content composition, there was a strong longitudinal gradient in both systems with aquatic insects predominating at upstream sample sites and fishes being more common at downstream sites. Stream discharge during the 24 hours prior to collection did not have any influence on the probability of a taxa being found in Guadalupe Bass stomachs. 

The results of this study support efforts to manage Guadalupe Bass populations at a sub-watershed scale and suggests that populations occupying the same stream order within a basin are likely to have similar responses to annual flow conditions. In addition, these results indicate that the lower Colorado River population may inhabit a unique set of conditions that has supported the development of a trophy Guadalupe Bass fishery. Further, this study highlights the need to incorporate a sufficient range of annual flow conditions to ensure that the influence of stream flow on fish growth is adequately assessed. While interannual variation in growth rates seem to be capable of serving as a proxy for recruitment and year-class strength, long-term monitoring of recruitment paired with assessment of growth is necessary to further clarify the relationship between population density, flow regime, recruitment and growth and allow the construction of predictive models.

Publication Year 2019
Title Guadalupe Bass flow-ecology relationships; with emphasis on the impact of flow on recruitment
Authors Timothy B. Grabowski, Heather M. Williams, Robin Verble, Allison Pease, Jessica Pease
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Cooperator Science Series
Series Number 144-2019
Index ID 70227618
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle