Life History Characteristics and Vital Rates of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout in Two Headwater Basins


Patrick Uthe, Robert Al-Chokhachy, Alexander V. Zale, Bradley B. Shepard, Thomas E. McMahon, Tracy Stephens


North American Journal of Fisheries Management


The Yellow stone Cutthroat Trout Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri is native to the Rocky Mountains and has declined in abundance and distribution as a result of habitat degradation and introduced salmonid species. Many of its remaining strongholds are in headwater basins with minimal human disturbances. Understanding the life histories, vital rates, and behaviors of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout within headwater stream networks remains limited yet is critical for effective management and conservation. We estimated annual relative growth in length and weight, annual survival rates, and movement patterns of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout from three tributaries of Spread Creek, Wyoming, and two tributaries of Shields River, Montana, from 2011 through 2013 using PIT tag antennas within a mark-recapture framework. Mean annual growth rates varied among tributaries and size-classes, but were slow compared with populations of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout from large, low-elevation streams. Survival rates were relatively high compared with those of other Cutthroat Trout subspecies, but we found an inverse relationship between survival and size, a pattern contrary to what has been reported for Cutthroat Trout in large streams. Mean annual survival rates ranged from 0.32 (SE = 0.04) to 0.68 (SE = 0.05) in the Spread Creek basin and from 0.30 (SE = 0.07) to 0.69 (SE = 0.10) in the Shields River basin. Downstream movements from tributaries were substantial, with as much as 26.5% of a tagging cohort leaving over the course of the study. Integrating our growth, survival, and movement results demonstrates the importance of considering strategies to enhance headwater stream habitats and highlights the importance of connectivity with larger stream networks.



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