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Quantifying the contributions of tributaries to large-river fish populations through mark-recapture modeling

November 23, 2023

Tributaries may play a vital role in maintaining populations of large river fishes, although the specific contributions of tributaries toward recruitment of river-wide populations are not often understood. Tributaries may experience fewer cumulative anthropogenic impacts relative to mainstem rivers and may offer more natural conditions supportive of native fish populations, which may provide opportunities for fish population restoration. Thus, an improved understanding of tributary-mainstem population dynamics may inform targeted conservation actions for spatially structured populations of large-river fishes. Colorado River tributaries in the Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA are a focus of imperiled Humpback Chub Gila cypha conservation, which includes translocations to enhance population redundancy and to expand the overall population. However, the fate of fish dispersed to the mainstem has not been thoroughly quantified. Using open population mark-recapture models, we quantified the relative contribution of three groups of Humpback Chub, including fish of confirmed tributary origin that were either translocated or produced in situ, and others presumed to be Colorado River mainstem origin fish, to three mainstem populations. Our specific study objectives were to 1) estimate Colorado River abundances of tributary and mainstem-origin fish over time, 2) compare relative group-specific contributions to three mainstem populations, and 3) compare group-specific survival rates of Humpback Chub in the Colorado River and in a tributary where a recent translocation has occurred. Tributaries contributed 26% and 43% of the overall abundance in two tributary inflow reach populations, and zero in a third, which we attributed to uncharacteristically low tributary survival immediately following translocation. In the mainstem, survival of tributary-origin fish was higher compared to mainstem-origin fish, suggesting an advantage of tributary residence. Our contrasting results from three different tributary inflow populations highlight the potential role for tributaries in sustaining large-river fish populations, which may have important implications for long-term maintenance of river metapopulations.

Publication Year 2023
Title Quantifying the contributions of tributaries to large-river fish populations through mark-recapture modeling
DOI 10.1002/nafm.10971
Authors Brian Daniel Healy, Emily C. Omana Smith
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title North American Journal of Fisheries Management
Index ID 70250229
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Ecological Science Center