Distribution and population characteristics of lake trout in Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park : implications for suppression
Bull trout Salvelinus confluentus have declined since the establishment of nonnative lake trout Salvelinus namaycush in Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park (GNP). In an attempt to prevent further decline of this population, GNP is considering implementing a lake trout suppression program. I used ultrasonic telemetry to examine the spatial and temporal distribution of lake trout and gill nets to evaluate population characteristics and diet. Model simulations were used to predict lake trout responses to varying levels of suppression. I relocated 36 lake trout (508-859 mm total length) 1,137 times from June through November 2003 and March through November 2004. Lake trout had a narrow vertical distribution during all seasons in both 2003 and 2004, rarely occupying depths >30 m. During thermal stratification, lake trout occupied depths in the upper hypolimnion where mean temperature varied from 8-9°C and dissolved oxygen was highest. Lake trout typically were suspended in the water column during all seasons except autumn. When spawning commenced in late-October, lake trout were associated with littoral habitats containing clean cobble and boulder substrates. The lake trout population had a broad age structure and a maximum age of 37 years. Males reached maturity earlier (12 years) than females (15 years), and total annual mortality rate for lake trout ages 8-27 was 13.2%. Growth rates were slow and relative weight values were among the lowest observed for lake trout throughout their range. Food habits were sampled from 254 lake trout, and 95% of the diet by weight consisted of fish prey. Model simulations indicated that substantial population reduction could be achieved with moderate exploitation (20-50%); however, this was more easily achieved as the size at which lake trout could effectively be captured was reduced. Simulations suggested that recruitment could be reduced to a level where adults are not being replaced at low exploitation (10-30%). These data will allow suppression efforts to be focused at times and places that will maximize efficiency, and population simulations suggest that substantial reduction of the lake trout population is feasible. Ultimately, results from this study should promote recovery of bull trout in Lake McDonald.