Dynamics of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and lake trout in the Yellowstone Lake ecosystem : a case study for the ecology and management of non-native fishes

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The introduction of lake trout Salvelinus namaycush into Yellowstone Lake preceded the collapse of the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri population. As a system with a simple fish assemblage and several long-term data sets, Yellowstone Lake provided a unique opportunity to evaluate the ecology of a native salmonid in the presence of a non-native salmonid population undergoing suppression in a large natural lake. Diet data for Yellowstone cutthroat trout and lake trout were evaluated at varying densities to determine the effects of density on diet composition. Temporal diet shifts from 1996-1999 to 2011-2013 were likely caused by limitation of prey fish for lake trout. Diets, stable isotopes, and depth-related patterns in CPUE indicated lake trout > 300 mm consumed primarily amphipods, making them trophically similar to Yellowstone cutthroat trout from during 2011-2013. A lake trout removal program was initiated during 1995 to reduce predation on Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Abundance and fishing mortality were estimated for lake trout from 1998 through 2013 and Yellowstone cutthroat trout from 1986 through 2013. Density-dependence was evaluated by examining individual growth, weight, maturity, and pre-recruit survival as a function of abundance. In addition, a simulation model was developed for the lake trout- Yellowstone cutthroat trout system to determine the probability of Yellowstone cutthroat trout abundance persisting at performance metrics given potential reductions in lake trout abundance. Estimates of Yellowstone cutthroat trout abundance varied 5-fold and lake trout abundance varied 6-fold. Yellowstone cutthroat trout weight and pre-recruit survival decreased with increasing Yellowstone cutthroat trout abundance; however, individual growth and maturity were not related to abundance. Lake trout population metrics did not vary with lake trout abundance. Simulation model results were variable because of uncertainty in lake trout pre-recruit survival. Conservative estimates for required lake trout reductions were > 97% of 2013 abundance for a > 70% probability of Yellowstone cutthroat trout persistence at the performance metrics outlined in the Native Fish Conservation Plan. Lake trout removal will likely reduce lake trout abundance and result in Yellowstone cutthroat trout recovery if the amount of fishing effort exerted in 2013 is maintained for at least 15 years.




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