Distributions of Small Nongame Fishes in the Lower Yellowstone River

By Duncan, Michael B.; Bramblett, Robert G. et al. | The American Midland Naturalist, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Distributions of Small Nongame Fishes in the Lower Yellowstone River


Duncan, Michael B., Bramblett, Robert G., Zale, Alexander, V, The American Midland Naturalist


INTRODUCTION

Anthropogenic disturbances affect many of the world's large rivers (Dynesius and Nilsson, 1994; Nilsson et aL, 2005). Habitat modifications include inundated river channels (Junk et aL, 1989), altered discharge (Poff et aL, 1997) and thermal regimes (Ward and Stanford, 1983), disconnected floodplains (Junk et aL, 1989; Galat et aL, 1998; Tockner and Stanford, 2002), decreased channel migrations (Ligón et aL, 1995), altered turbidities (Ward and Stanford, 1983), and increased habitat fragmentation (Dynesius and Nilsson, 1994; Nilsson et aL, 2005). Such disturbances have decreased distributions and abundances of many fishes especially those native to snowmelt-dominated streams (Lyde and Poff, 2004).

The Missouri River Basin is one of the largest, and most altered, river ecosystems in North America (Hesse and Sheets, 1993). The Missouri River and its tributaries support about 176 fish species (Cross et al, 1986) with almost half being large-river fishes (Galat et ai, 2005). Much of the information on these species is from altered habitats, which prevents a comprehensive understanding of the natural structure and function of native fish assemblages in large Great Plains river ecosystems.

The Yellowstone River is a tributary of the Missouri River and the longest unimpounded river in the conterminous United States (Benke, 1990). Several low head diversion dams span the Yellowstone River, bank stabilization has reduced braiding and river complexity (Thatcher and Boyd, 2007; Reinhold, 2014), and several of its tributaries are impounded. However, the Yellowstone River maintains high habitat quality and a relatively natural discharge regime. The river retains floodplain connectivity (Koch et al, 1977; Reinhold, 2014), high habitat heterogeneity (Bowen et al, 2003), and is thought to support a diverse fish assemblage (White and Bramblett, 1993). The Yellowstone River includes a transition zone between a clear coldwater environment and a turbid warm water river as well as a shift from cobble to sand substrates (Peterman, 1979; White and Bramblett, 1993). This combination of factors provides a unique opportunity to assess longitudinal changes in the natural structure of a relatively intact large-river fish assemblage.

Small nongame fish are important components of aquatic environments. They are prey of aquatic and terrestrial predators (Lagler, 1943; Korschgen, 1958; Melquist and Hornocker, 1983; Bur et al, 2008), influence nutrient cycling (Stewart, 1987; Haag and Warren, 1997), and are glochidial hosts for freshwater mussels (Zale and Neves, 1982; Haag and Warren, 1997). Two Yellowstone River fishes are of particular concern: the sicklefin chub Macrhybopsis meeki and sturgeon chub Macrhybopsis gélida. These large-river fishes are restricted to the Missouri River and its major tributaries and are prey of the federally endangered pallid sturgeon Scaphirhynchus albus (Gerrity et al, 2006). Damming has caused range reductions and decreased abundances of sicklefin chubs and sturgeon chubs (Hesse and Wallace, 1976; Pflieger and Grace, 1987; Kelsch, 1994; Haslouer et al, 2005; Hoagstrom et al., 2006b) leading to their listing as vulnerable, threatened, or endangered in parts of their ranges (Williams et al, 1989; Werdon, 1993; Galat et al, 2005; Haslouer et al, 2005; Jelks et al, 2008). Flathead chubs Platygobio gracilis, western silvery minnows Hybognathus argyritis, and several other largeriver cyprinids native to the Missouri River Basin are also experiencing declining abundances or distributions throughout their ranges (Jones, 1963; Hesse and Wallace, 1976; Pflieger and Grace, 1987; Peters et al, 1989; Hesse et al, 1993; Patton et al, 1998; Harland and Berry, 2004; Haslouer et al, 2005; Kral and Berry, 2005; Hoagstrom et al, 2006a, b, 2007). Despite the importance of small nongame fish in maintaining the structure and function of large river fish assemblages, such fishes have not been thoroughly sampled in the Yellowstone River. …

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