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Water availability drives instream conditions and life-history of an imperiled desert fish: A case study to inform water management

April 13, 2022

In arid ecosystems, available water is a critical, yet limited resource for human consumption, agricultural use, and ecosystem processes—highlighting the importance of developing management strategies to meet the needs of multiple users. Here, we evaluated how water availability influences stream thermal regimes and life-history expressions of Lahontan cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii henshawi) in the arid Truckee River basin in the western United States. We integrated air temperature and stream discharge data to quantify how water availability drives stream temperature during annual spawning and rearing of Lahontan cutthroat trout. We then determined how in situ stream discharge and temperature affected adult spawning migrations, juvenile growth opportunities, and duration of suitable thermal conditions. Air temperatures had significant, large effects (+) on stream temperature across months; the effects of discharge varied across months, with significant effects (−) during May through August, suggesting increased discharge can help mitigate temperatures during seasonally warm months. Two models explained adult Lahontan cutthroat trout migration, and both models indicated that adult Lahontan cutthroat trout avoid migration when temperatures are warmer (~ > 12 °C) and discharge is higher (~ > 50 m3*s−1). Juvenile size was best explained by a quadratic relationship with cumulative degree days (CDD; days>4 °C) as size increased with increasing CDDs but decreased at higher CDDs. We also found an interaction between CDDs and discharge explaining juvenile size: when CDDs were low, higher discharge was associated with larger size, but when CDDs were high, higher discharge was associated with smaller size. Stream temperatures also determined the duration of juvenile rearing, as all juvenile emigration ceased at temperatures >24.4 °C. Together, our results illustrated how stream discharge and temperature shape the life-history of Lahontan cutthroat trout at multiple stages and can inform management actions to offset warming temperatures and facilitate life-history diversity and population resilience.

Publication Year 2022
Title Water availability drives instream conditions and life-history of an imperiled desert fish: A case study to inform water management
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154614
Authors Robert K. Al-Chokhachy, Roger Peka, Erik Horgen, Daniel J. Kaus, Tim Loux, Lisa Heki
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70250621
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center