Date of Award:

2017

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Ecology

Advisor/Chair:

Phaedra Budy

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Jereme Gaeta

Abstract

Changes to rivers that alter physical and thermal habitat may cause fish population abundance to decline, due to fewer individuals maturing and entering the adult population. The Weber River has become highly degraded with many dams and diversions altering fish habitat, river volume, velocity, and temperature, and limiting movement between reaches. Bluehead suckers (Catostomus discobolus) occupy only 47% of their historical range and the genetically-distinct Weber River (northern UT) population is declining and contains few young, juvenile fish. My objectives were to determine whether spawning and rearing habitat available in the Weber River may be limiting bluehead sucker reproductive success and population growth. I used reach-based surveys to locate and quantify spawning habitat in the Weber River and Ferron Creek (central Utah), a relatively unaltered river for comparison. I sampled slow-water backwaters near (< 1 km) spawning reaches for juvenile sucker and surveyed habitat characteristics. I conducted laboratory experiments to evaluate the effect different temperature and velocity treatments (12-19°C, 0.004-0.18 m/s) have on juvenile bluehead sucker growth. In the Weber River and Ferron Creek, reaches with gravel (4-64 mm diameter), cobble (64-256 mm diameter), and pools (6-26 pools/km) were used by spawning bluehead sucker. In Weber River backwaters, deeper backwaters contained significantly more juvenile sucker (18-378 sucker; range: 19-87 cm max depth).

Laboratory results indicated that juvenile bluehead sucker growth was greatest in the cooler temperature and slower velocity treatments. Collectively these results suggest spawning habitat is limited by the availability of small, rocky substrate and pools and rearing habitat is limited by the availability of deep, slow backwaters at the optimal temperature. By evaluating factors that may limit bluehead sucker population growth, this study will provide a template for future restoration efforts directed at recovering this imperiled population.

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