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Use of seasonally available habitat by northern leatherside in Wyoming.

Although traditional conservation of stream fishes has focused at the local scale, a paradigmatic shift in recent years has highlighted the importance of understanding multiple spatial scales for effective management (Fausch et al., 2002). Under this riverscape-concept, the fine-scale components of a river system are evaluated in the context of large-scale landscape processes to holistically inform conservation. Present and historic land-use (Harding et al., 1998), spatial and temporal conditions of habitat (Matthews, 1998), and connectivity of habitat (Schlosser, 1991) interact to structure assemblages of fish and the productivity of individual populations of fish. Following this paradigm, seasonally-available habitats and intermittent reaches of streams can be critical to numerous fishes (e.g., Erman and Hawthorne, 1976; Wigington et al., 2006; Compton et al., 2008). Particularly in arid regions, intermittent reaches are periodically recolonized by fishes (e.g., Fausch and Bramblett, 1990), and maintaining spatial and temporal connectivity between these reaches can be an important conservation strategy for species that occur in these habitats (Labbe and Fausch, 2000).

Northern leatherside (Lepidomeda copei) is a small cyprinid native to the Bonneville and Snake river drainages of Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming. Across its range, northern leatherside has declined relative to historical records, appears to have been extirpated from numerous locations, and is highly fragmented in areas of persistence (Wilson and Belk, 2001; Belk and Johnson, 2007). Due to its current status, northern leatherside has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act (United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011). The ecology of habitat and community of northern leatherside has not been frequently assessed but is believed to be similar to that of southern leatherside (Lepidomeda aliciae). Both species occupy warm-water streams and can persist in remnant pools during periods of intermittency (Belk and Johnson, 2007). Recent work in Wyoming suggests that northern leatherside might be relatively mobile and might opportunistically use seasonally available habitats (C. Amadio, pers. comm.), similar to other small, desert cyprinids of the southwestern United States (Minckley and Barber, 1971; Compton et al., 2008). I report observations of northern leatherside occupying intermittent reaches of streams in the Bear River drainage of southwestern Wyoming.

A survey of assemblages of fish in intermittent streams was conducted to determine if northern leatherside utilize this seasonally available habitat. In June 2011, intermittent tributaries (i.e., streams containing flowing surface water only during periods of spring runoff, Table 1) adjacent to streams with known populations of northern leatherside were sampled with backpack-electrofishing in portions the of Bear River drainage near Evanston and Kemmerer, Wyoming. Electrofishing consisted of opportunistically sampling accessible reaches near their confluence with larger, perennial streams; a minimum of 200 m was sampled in each reach. Physical habitat in reaches was qualitatively examined, but no formal surveys of habitat were conducted. Electrofished reaches were revisited in August 2011 to assess conditions of habitat in late summer and confirm intermittency of reaches.

Northern leatherside were collected from two intermittent streams, Little Yellow and Chicken creeks (Table 1). On 16 June 2011, ca. 250 m of Little Yellow Creek immediately upstream of the confluence with Yellow Creek were sampled; this reach was completely dry in August 2010 (J. Wesner, pers. comm.). In addition to northern leatherside, the assemblage of fish contained speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus), longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae), redside shiner (Richardsonius balteatus), mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdi), mountain sucker (Catostomusplatyrhynchus), and Bonneville cutthroat trout (Onchorynchus clarki utah). Although the reach contained very turbid water, mostly fine substrates and several deep (ca. 100 cm) pools, most of the fish were captured from a small riffle with gravel and small cobble substrate. When the reach was revisited in August, the stream contained very low discharges (< 0.01 [m.sup.3]/s) and algae and flooded terrestrial grasses were common in the reach. It is unclear how much longer into the autumn flowing water persisted in the reach. Numerous unidentified young-of-the-year cyprinids were observed along margins of channels, and adult redside shiner and speckled dace were captured, although northern leatherside was not collected.

The second location where northern leatherside was collected was Chicken Creek, immediately upstream of the confluence with Twin Creek. Chicken Creek rarely contains surface discharge for more than 1-2 weeks a year, and isolated pools do not persist (A. Aase, pers. comm.). In addition to northern leatherside, mountain sucker and redside shiner were captured; all fishes showed spawning coloration (bright lateral stripes, noticeable tubercles on mountain sucker; orange coloration at the base of paired fins on northern leatherside). At the time of collection, the reach contained very clean gravel substrate with interstitial discharge through the substrate. When the reach was revisited in August, it was completely dry at the confluence, but physical morphology of the streambed was similar.

These patterns of seasonal use of habitat clearly show that northern leatherside and other native fishes of the Bear River drainage opportunistically use seasonally available habitats and additionally might reflect spawning aggregations. Other desert fishes opportunistically recolonize newly available habitats and move to intermittent habitats to spawn as a component of their life history (Minckley and Barber, 1971; Mims et al., 2010). Conditions of habitat in intermittent reaches where northern leatherside was collected were consistent with conditions selected by captive individuals in the laboratory during studies of substrate preference (Billman et al., 2008). The importance of intermittent streams for spawning is shown in the literature; salmonids (Erman and Hawthorne, 1976) and other cypriniformes (Geen et al., 1966; Compton et al., 2008) have been documented utilizing intermittent streams for spawning. Some fishes in the Bear River drainage also have developed similar patterns of life history; Bonneville cutthroat trout spawn in small tributaries and make long-distance movements back to mainstem habitats (Schrank and Rahel, 2004; Colyer et al., 2005). Clearly, this information indicates that access to multiple habitats and maintenance of corridors for movement are critical to assemblages of fish within the Bear River drainage.

My study illustrates that northern leatherside use intermittent tributaries when available, possibly for spawning activities. Future work might quantify relative reproductive output of these areas to assess whether they represent source-habitat or sink-habitat for these imperiled fish. An examination of patterns of movement of northern leatherside also might elucidate the timing and demographics of seasonal movements. The results of this and future studies have and will continue to improve the understanding of use of habitat by northern leatherside and can be used to more effectively manage populations and habitat of northern leatherside. For example, the extent to which intermittent streams provide sourcehabitats that increase growth of populations will determine the importance of maintaining spatial connectivity with seasonally available habitats. Additionally, duration of availability likely will determine the relative contribution to persistence of populations. Prevention of early intermittency due to withdrawal of water from seasonally flowing streams would, therefore, be an essential conservation strategy to promote growth of populations. Conservation-actions at these finer spatial scales need to be combined with broader management at the riverscape-scale to ensure the long-term persistence of northern leatherside and its habitats.

Funding for this project was provided by a State Wildlife Grant to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Design of the study and analyses were greatly aided by P. Cavalli, H. Sexauer, D. Zafft, C. Amadio, and J. Wesner. Fieldwork was contributed by N. Thompson and K. Buer, and B. Kaufman helped with the Spanish translation of the abstract. Critical reviews of previous drafts of this manuscript were provided by E. Billman, H. Sexauer, P. Cavalli, and two anonymous reviewers.


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Submitted 6 April 2012. Acceptance recommended by Associate Editor Lance Williams 7 September 2012.

Luke D. Schultz

Wyoming Game and Fish Department, P.O. Box 850, Pinedale, WY 82941 Present address: Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331

TABLE 1--Location sampled (downstream perennial stream with
northern leatherside, Lepidomeda copei), condition of habitat
in August, distance sampled, and assemblage of fish (number of
individuals collected for each species) of intermittent reaches
of streams sampled in the Bear River drainage of southwestern
Wyoming in summer 2011. Condition of habitat in August includes
dry (no surface water present) and trickle (remnant, isolated
pools and discharge < 0.01 [m.sup.3]/s). Fishes include
northern leatherside (NLS), redside shiner (RSS, (Richardsonius
balteatus), speckled dace (SPD, Rhinichthys osculus), longnose
dace (LND, Rhinichthys cataractae), mountain sucker (MTS,
Catostomus platyrhynchus), mottled sculpin (MSC, Cottus
bairdi), and Bonneville cutthroat trout (BRC, Onchorynchus
clarki utah).

Location                Condition    Sampling         Fish
                        of habitat   distance
                        in August      (m)

                                                NLS   RSS   SPD

Chicken (Twin Creek)       Dry         250       2    13     0
Little Yellow (Yellow    Trickle       250       4    12    66
Twiss Hollow (Smith        Dry         200       0     0     0
Willow (La Chapelle      Trickle       220       0     5     2
Stowe (Sulphur Creek)    Trickle       200       0     0     2

Location                         Fish

                        LND   MTS   MSC   BRC

Chicken (Twin Creek)     0    13     0     0
Little Yellow (Yellow    2     2     2     2
Twiss Hollow (Smith      0     0     0     0
Willow (La Chapelle      0     1     3     0
Stowe (Sulphur Creek)    2     1     0     0
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Title Annotation:NOTES
Author:Schultz, Luke D.
Publication:Southwestern Naturalist
Article Type:Report
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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