Nongame Fish & Aquatics

As Streams Warm Up, Where Will Restoration Be the Most Effective for the Most Species?

Bull Trout climate refuge map. Credit: Dan Isaak, USFS

Nongame aquatic species such as sculpins, whitefishes, tadpoles, and turtles are some of the most imperiled yet least studied organisms. I am using future temperature projections for Montana streams to determine where temperatures will be suitable for these species to survive. Additional information, such as land ownership and barrier locations, will help prioritize which areas and species should be the focus of conservation & restoration actions. Much of this work is based on the important Climate Shield work by Dan Isaak of the U.S. Forest Service and others.

Project Partners & Funders:
National Science Foundation; U.S. Forest Service; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; Utah State University

Are Montana’s Whitefish Populations in Decline?

Mountain Whitefish, Glacier NP

Mountain Whitefish are common in many rivers in western Montana. However, recent disease outbreaks in Yellowstone River populations, and anecdotal evidence elsewhere, suggests that Mountain Whitefish may be in decline. I am working with historical catch data to determine if there is an overall trend. Pygmy Whitefish are also native to Montana but are not often the focus of monitoring efforts. I am trying to see if I can gather enough data to determine their status as well.

Are Fish Communities Changing in the Powder?

Powder River, Southeastern Montana

The Powder River (MT-WY) is one of the last free-flowing prairie rivers but is at risk from oil and natural gas drilling and overgrazing by sheep and cattle. Pallid Sturgeon have recently been observed travelling up the Powder River to spawn, and the river may become increasingly important as natural habitat for this endangered fish. However, the Powder remains understudied. With Annika Walters (University of Wyoming) and Jon McFarland (Smultea Sciences), I am examining historic fisheries data from the Powder River to determine if the historic fish assemblage has changed since Pallid Sturgeon were extirpated from the system.

Can Torrent Sculpin Take the Heat?

Torrent Sculpin, Lake Creek near Troy, MT

Climate change is causing streams across the West to warm up, forcing coldwater species to move higher, into colder waters, or blink out. Mike Lemoine and Lisa Eby at the University of Montana have documented range contractions of Slimy Sculpin (Uranidea cognata) due to rising temperatures in the Bitterroot drainage. The Kootenai River basin, in the extreme northwest of Montana, is the only part of the state where Torrent Sculpin (Uranidea rhotheus) can be found. However, little is known about what temperatures Torrent Sculpin need to survive. Mike Young, at the U.S.F.S. National Fish & Wildlife Genomics Center, is developing an eDNA assay for Torrent Sculpin so that I can quickly determine the thermal extent where this cryptic species is found.

Project Funders: U.S. Forest Service