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What environmental conditions reduce predation vulnerability for juvenile Colorado River native fishes?

December 5, 2018

The incompatibility of native Colorado River fishes and nonnative warm-water sport fishes is well documented with predation by nonnative species causing rapid declines and even extirpation of native species in most locations. In a few rare instances native fishes are able to survive and recruit despite the presence of nonnative warm water predators, indicating that specific environmental conditions may help reduce predation vulnerability. We experimented with turbidity, artificial blue water colorant, woody debris, rocks, and aquatic vegetation in a laboratory setting to determine if any of these types of cover could reduce predation vulnerability and confer survival advantages for juvenile bonytail Gila elegans, (mean = 70 mm TL), roundtail chub Gila robusta, (mean = 35 mm TL), humpback chub Gila cypha, (mean = 67 mm TL), and razorback sucker Xyrauchen texanus (mean = 74 mm TL). Juvenile native fishes were exposed to predation by adult largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides, smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu, green sunfish Lepomis cyanellus, flathead catfish Pylodictis olivaris, and black bullhead catfish Ameiurus melas, in overnight trials. Turbidity above 500 NTU reduced predation vulnerability by up to 50%, for the sight-feeding predators, but increased predation vulnerability to non-sight feeding predators such as flathead catfish and bullhead catfish. Turbidity was the only treatment which appeared to significantly alter predation mortality of native prey. These results may help to explain recent patterns of wild juvenile razorback sucker recruitment at the inflow of the San Juan River into Lake Powell and the inflow of the Colorado River into Lake Mead. These are both areas of high turbidity where flathead catfish are not currently present but other nonnative sportfish are relatively abundant.

Publication Year 2018
Title What environmental conditions reduce predation vulnerability for juvenile Colorado River native fishes?
DOI 10.3996/042018-JFWM-031
Authors David L. Ward, Benjamin Vaage
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management
Index ID 70203095
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center