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Relations between habitat variability and population dynamics of bass in the Huron River, Michigan

April 1, 1994

One of the assumption of the Instream Flow Incremental Methodology (IFIM) is that the dynamics of fish populations are directly or indirectly related to habitat availability. Because this assumption has not been successfully tested in coolwater streams, questions arise regarding the validity of the methodology in such streams. The purpose of our study was to determine whether relations existed between habitat availability and population dynamics of smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) and rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris) in a 16-km reach of the Huron River in southeastern Michigan.

Both species exhibited strong to moderate carryover of year classes from age 0 through age 2, indicating that adult populations were related to factors affecting recruitment. Year-class strength and subsequent numbers of yearling bass were related to the availability of young-of-year habitat during the first growing season for a cohort. Number of age-0, age-1, and adult smallmouth bass were related to the average length at age 0 for the cohort. Length at age 0 was associated with young-of-year habitat and thermal regime during the first growing season.

Rock bass populations exhibited similar associations among age classes and habitat variables. Compared to smallmouth bass, the number of age-2 rock bass was associated more closely with their length at age 0 than with year-class strength. Length at age 0 and year-class strength of rock bass were associated with the same habitat variables as those related to age-0 smallmouth bass.

We hypothesize that an energetic mechanism linked thermal regime to length at age 0 and that increased growth resulted in higher survival rates from age 0 to age 1. We also postulate that young-of-year habitat provided protection from predators, higher production of food resources, and increased foraging efficiency. We conclude that the IFIM is a valid methodology for instream flow investigations of coolwater streams. The results for our study support the contention that the dynamics of bass populations are directly or indirectly related to habitat availability in coolwater streams. Our study also revealed several implications related to the operational application of the IFIM in coolwater streams:

1. Greater emphasis should be placed on the alleviation of habitat impacts to early life history phases of bass.

2. Effects of the thermal regime are important in some coolwater streams even if temperatures remain within nonlethal limits. Degree-day analyses should be routinely included in study plans for applications of the IFIM in coolwater streams.

3. The smallest amount of habitat occurring within or across years is not necessarily the most significant event affecting population dynamics. The timing of extreme events can be as important as their magnitude.

4. Population-related habitat limitations were associated with high flows more often than with low flows (although both occurred). Negotiations that focus only on minimum flows may preclude viable water management options and ignore significant biological events. This finding is particularly relevant to negotiations involving hydrospeaking operations.

5. IFIM users are advised to consider the use of binary criteria in place of conventional suitability index curves in microhabitat simulations. Criteria defining the optimal ranges of variables are preferable to broader rangers, and criteria that simply define suitable conditions should be avoided entirely.

Publication Year 1994
Title Relations between habitat variability and population dynamics of bass in the Huron River, Michigan
Authors Ken D. Bovee, Tammy J. Newcomb, Thomas G. Coon
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Series Number Biological Report 21
Index ID 70129021
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse