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Migration timing and tributary use of spawning flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis)

July 26, 2023

Spawning phenology and associated migrations of fishes are often regulated by factors such as temperature and stream discharge, but flow regulation of mainstem rivers coupled with climate change might disrupt these cues and affect fitness. Flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis) persisting in heavily modified river networks are known to spawn in tributaries that might provide better spawning habitat than neighboring mainstem rivers subject to habitat degradation (e.g., embedded sediments, altered thermal regimes, and disconnected floodplains). Passive integrative transponder (PIT) tag data and radio telemetry were used to quantify the timing and duration of flannelmouth sucker tributary spawning migrations in relation to environmental cues in McElmo Creek, a tributary to the San Juan River in the American Southwest. We also tested the extent of the tributary migration and assessed mainstem movements prior to and following tributary migrations. Additionally, multi-year datasets of PIT detections from other tributaries in the Colorado River basin were used to quantify interannual and cross-site variation in the timing of flannelmouth sucker spawning migrations in relation to environmental cues. The arrival and residence times of fish spawning in McElmo Creek varied among years with earlier migration and a three-week increase in residence time in relatively wet years compared to drier years. Classification tree analysis suggested a combination of discharge and temperature determined arrival timing. Of fish PIT tagged in the fall, 56% tagged within 10 km of McElmo Creek spawned in the tributary the following spring, as did 60% of radio-tagged fish, with a decline in its use corresponding to increased distance of tagging location. A broader analysis of four tributaries in the Colorado River basin, including McElmo Creek, found photoperiod and temperature of tributary and mainstem rivers were the most important variables in determining migration timing, but tributary and mainstem discharge also aided in classification success. The largest tributary, the Little Colorado River, had more residential fish or fish that stayed for longer periods (median = 30 days), while McElmo Creek fish stayed an average of just 10 days in 2022. Our results generally suggest that higher discharge, across years or across sites, results in extended use of tributaries by flannelmouth suckers. Conservation actions that limit water extraction and maintain natural flow regimes in tributaries, while maintaining open connection with mainstem rivers may benefit migratory species including flannelmouth suckers.

Publication Year 2023
Title Migration timing and tributary use of spawning flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis)
DOI 10.1111/jfb.15509
Authors Sophia M. Bonjour, Keith B. Gido, Mark C. McKinstry, Charles N. Cathcart, Matthew R. Bogaard, Maria C. Dzul, Brian Daniel Healy, Zachary E. Hooley-Underwood, David L. Rogowski, Charles Yackulic
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Fish Biology
Index ID 70247370
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center; Eastern Ecological Science Center