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Network connectivity contributes to native small-bodied fish assemblages in the upper Mississippi River system

April 18, 2024
  1. Effective management and conservation of fishes requires understanding habitat use across multiple life stages while ensuring necessary habitats are both available and accessible. Tributary habitats may play an important role in recruitment and dispersal of fishes in anthropogenically modified rivers such as the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers of the Midwest U.S.A. Identifying source locations that contribute to recruitment of fish populations can determine the importance of connectivity within river networks and pinpoint critical habitats that sustain fish populations. In the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS), the environments that fish use in early life stages (i.e., natal origin) can be identified using otolith trace element analysis due to stability and distinctness in water chemistry (strontium: calcium [Sr:Ca]) among water bodies that is reflected in otoliths.
  2. Here, we used trace element analysis to determine natal origin of six small-bodied fishes including bullhead minnow (Pimephales vigilax), emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides), gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), orangespotted sunfish (Lepomis humilis), and yellow perch (Perca flavescens) across six reaches of the UMRS (Pools 4, 8, 13, 26, the Open River of the Middle Mississippi River, and the La Grange Pool of the Illinois River). Otolith core Sr:Ca for fishes was quantified using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Using the resulting Sr:Ca chemical signatures of otolith cores, natal origin (tributary, immigrant, or potential resident) was determined for individual fish based on family-specific relationships between otolith and water chemistries.
  3. We found that all species originated from tributaries and other reaches (i.e., were immigrants) to varying extents, which acted as evidence for network connectivity. Specifically, tributaries contributed up to 48% of individuals at a given reach. In certain reaches, Pool 26 and the Open River reach, up to 80% of individuals in a species immigrated from another mainstem river reach. Network connectivity was also important in both upstream and downstream directions. Contributions from network connectivity varied among species: bullhead minnow used less whereas orangespotted sunfish used more network connectivity than when all species were combined. Further, the use of network connectivity varied spatially where individuals captured in Pool 8 and the La Grange Pool less often and those from Pool 26 and the Open River more often originated from network connectivity compared to the whole assemblage across reaches.
  4. These results indicate that species' life history traits probably interacted with the physical environment, which differs spatially, to yield observed recruitment source patterns. Our results show that network connectivity contributes to established assemblages of native small-bodied fishes throughout the UMRS and underscore the role of interjurisdictional management in maintaining network connectivity to sustain fish populations.
Publication Year 2024
Title Network connectivity contributes to native small-bodied fish assemblages in the upper Mississippi River system
DOI 10.1111/fwb.14251
Authors Shaley A Valentine, Kristen L. Bouska, Gregory W. Whitledge
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Freshwater Biology
Index ID 70253125
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center